Summer Research Beyond Rutgers
Looking for a summer research opportunity as an undergraduate? Fortunately, there are many paid positions that exist that will give you both the research experience you want and the networking that you need. For many, this will be your first chance to meet students outside of your own university that are also interested in a career in science or medicine. Below is a list that will help you begin to understand what's out there. For Rutgers first year students, you should certainly check out the Aresty Summer Science Program.
Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)
The REU program supports active research participation by undergraduate students in any of the areas of research funded by the National Science Foundation. This program provides indirect funding for undergraduate students to participate in research. To inquire about possible funding opportunities, students should contact the organizations that have received awards. A directory of active REU Sites, along with contact information, can be found on at http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/reu_search.cfm
Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship/Program (SURF or SURP)
In some ways, these experiences are similar to REU programs, but the funding usually comes from the hosting university rather than the NSF. There is no master list of all the programs out there, so searching for them may be more difficult. However, if you just search "Biology SURF" or "Genetics SURF", etc., you will get lots of hits. For a good example of what a program should offer, check out UT Southwestern: http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/education/graduate-school/programs/non-degree-programs/surf.html
Medical Research Programs
For students who are more interested in pursuing an M.D. instead of a Ph.D., look for programs specifically designed for your medical interests. As an example, see the UT Southwestern Undergraduate Medical Research Fellows Program (UT-SUMR). This program is geared towards students who ONLY want an M.D. and allows students to participate in clinical research. Here is the link: http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/education/programs/nondegree-programs/undergraduate-students/utsumr.html
Many programs geared towards future Ph.D. students will focus more on basic research than medical or clinical research, but many programs do provide information about medical school. If you are having trouble finding medical programs specifically, my best advice to you is to apply to a research program at a medical school. Even if the program is focused on benchwork, the school will likely spend a lot of time talking about their medical school program.
The Leadership Alliance offers science and humanities research opportunities at various universities through their Summer Research - Early Identification Program (SR-EIP) for students considering a career in academia.
A more comprehensive list for opportunities in the humanities can be found here.
Almost any program out there will provide you with good research experience. Most summer programs have been offered for many years, so the program coordinators have selected out the best research mentors. Accepting a summer research student is a big responsibility and time commitment for the mentor, so most of the PIs are enthusiastic and willing to help you while you are there. But there is more to your experience than just what you are doing from 8AM-6PM or so. You want to make sure that ALL of your time is well-spent, not just the working hours.
What are the things you should look for in the program offerings?
Perhaps most important is housing. If you are applying to a program in a big city, living arrangements can be very expensive. You should look for a program that provides you with free housing AND promises to house you with other students. There are programs that say they will help you find an apartment, but which may or may not be with other students in the program, and it isn't always ideal to be without your peers every night when you go home. You want to be in the same building as the other people in the program to establish a sense of community.
Many programs offer voluntary or mandatory seminars given by faculty at the university once a week. These are geared towards undergraduates, so it will be at a level that is not too incomprehensible. It will give you the chance to see what kind of research is going on at the university and the areas that university focuses on.
Fun things and weekend events
It is an added bonus if your program offers free weekend excursions like trips to an amusement park, aquarium, rodeo, museum, etc. Sometimes they will host ice cream socials or mixers that will give you a chance to hear what it is like to be a graduate student or medical student at that university. This is a great way to gain insight into the application process and what life is like at that university.
Poster Session/final presentation
Many programs require their summer students to participate in an end-of-summer symposium and either present a poster or give a short powerpoint talk. This is an excellent way to practice speaking at formal events and meet other students/faculty interested in your research topic.
The average stipend for students is $3000-$4500 but there are some even higher. Usually, the higher-paying positions are either more competitive or don't provide housing. This may or may not be taxable.
Almost all programs have a 10-week program. Some may be shorter, and not all start at the exact same time. Make sure there is no conflict with the end of classes this Spring or the start of classes in the Fall. Also, if you intend to go on a week-long vacation in July, then you may have trouble finding a program that will let you do that. Because you are paid a stipend rather than by day or by week, the programs are very unhappy if you have to miss more than one day (most don't want you to miss ANY) and most will not hire you if you have to miss an extended period of time. Also, taking summer courses is usually not allowed because they want you to focus on your research experience only.
Because these programs can be huge time commitments, and because you are working full time, pick a place that will be FUN to be in for 10 weeks.
Special thanks to former Aresty Peer Instructor Melissa Pamula for helping make this page possible.