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How to apply for independent research/internships

082349082349 Posts: 2,228Registered User Senior Member
edited January 3 in Summer Programs
Hi!

About a year ago I posted some advice in http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/summer-programs/834923-would-unprofessional-if-i-email-professors-asking-internship.html after which many people PM’ed me for the email that I had written. I figured that since it’s the time of year when applications for summer programs are due, I should either bump that thread or start a new one.

Here goes. Ignore this if there's something similar!

General questions:
A) What do you want to do research for? (Biology, Physics, PoliSci, etc)
B) Do you have the commitment for research? (I don’t think this will be much of a problem for CCers, but it’s here just in case)
C) How long do you want to do your research project for? (Over the course of the year? Just the summer? Or what?)
D) Do you think you’re going to enjoy it? (Very important. I didn’t actually enjoy my project that much. But I still recommend doing research for exposure)

Some thoughts from CCers about high school independent research programs:
At least with my internship, they treat high school students like undergrads, and I think if you demonstrate interest and work hard, that's all that really matters.
I've talked to some professors that have told me they love working with high school students because they are incredibly self-motivated and dedicated if they are pursuing research at a relatively early age.

Most of the time, advanced research projects are so focused, but if you devote a lot of time and effort into reading papers and asking questions, that's what matters.
I've recieved a number of replies from professors in my field of interest (political science) and I'm really quite excited about the possibility of working with them over the summer, or even earlier. I encourage all of you to at least give it a try and send out a few emails. Don't expect to assist them on groundbreaking research as an equal. There's simply no way that's going to happen. Instead, be open to various possibilities. Let your passion for your field of interest show in your email. Let them know how honored you would be to work for them, and always be respectful and mindful of the fact that they are very busy individuals. If you're lucky, as I have been, you may get a few responses and then you go from there. Meet with the professor in person (you go to him - don't expect him to come to you) and just have fun. Seriously.

Also, a word of advice. If you're really serious about working with someone, don't send emails to the tenured faculty with a bazillion published articles and graduate level classes. Instead, try to single out younger, newer faculty members who teach at the undergraduate level (maybe introductory courses), and perhaps have a little more time on their hands/scheduling flexibility. It seems to have worked for me, that's all I'll say.

Thanks to tsubomi1993 and Hammurabi for their advice. This was taken from the original thread.

The email
The email below includes details of a science research program that I was part of. The words in bold are the ones you should change.
Dear Dr X,

My name is xxx and, together with my schoolmate yyy, we are grade 8 students from zzz high school. We are looking for a mentor for our project under the x Program.

I had to write about the program I was in. Maybe you could write about your interest in research.

For our project, we are interested in the workings of antioxidants in relation to pesticides. Our project is titled The Effect of Pesticides on Antioxidants Found in Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and Mung Bean (Vigna Radiata) Sprouts. We believe that our topic is within your field of interest. I have attached our proposal to this letter and would appreciate if you are able to look through our proposal (still in draft form) and recommend changes to make it more scientifically rigorous.

We hope very much you can be our mentor and would be grateful if you look at our request favorably. The deadline for signing up a mentor is this x-day, xxx , and we would appreciate if you could let us know before then if you are able to be our mentor. If you are unable to be our mentor, could you recommend another scientist who may be able to help us in our project?

Thank you for taking the time to consider our request.

Regards,

xxx email and telephone number

yyy email and telephone number

Questions
A) What if I don’t have a proposal?
I think it’s okay not to have a proposal. I had a proposal because my school’s program required all applicants to develop a proposal. However, what I do find critical is that you narrow down the scope of research. For example, if you decide on biology, please find out about the field of research, say microbiology. If you find something even deeper, then do write about it in your email This will also help you to answer question D.

B) I’m interested in non-science subjects such as international relations; Can I still use this template?
Yes, you may. As with any other email, do find out what area interests you and modify the template accordingly.

C) When is the latest that I can send this email?
One CCer was lucky and managed to secure a spot when he emailed in late-March. He emailed about 50 labs. I suggest not going that late and emailing so many labs. See question E and F.

D) Who should I ask?
As pointed out by Hammurabi, try to single out younger, newer faculty members who teach at the undergraduate level (maybe introductory courses), and perhaps have a little more time on their hands/scheduling flexibility.

E) How many can I ask?
I would stick with 1, at most 2 now. If you don’t get a reply back in 1.5 to 2 weeks, try emailing someone else.

F) What happens if I get accepted by two (or more! :O)?
In this fortunate-yet-unfortunate situation, I would suggest politely refusing the other offers. I have turned down people before (not for research) and I wrote something like
“Thank you for xxx. I appreciate your time and effort in xxx. After much thought and careful consideration, I have decided not to accept your offer. I wish you and -insert name here- continued success. Once again, thank you for your time and consideration.”

G) How beneficial is this to my college app?
I think this shows a lot of independence, commitment and dedication. In fact, I would say that because of my experience with research, I’m no longer looking for research universities for college.

H) I’m international; Can I use this email?
Yes, this template is applicable anywhere and everywhere.

I hope this helped! Feel free to PM me if you have any questions!
Post edited by 082349 on
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Replies to: How to apply for independent research/internships

  • 082349082349 Posts: 2,228Registered User Senior Member
    I created this thread for nothing. ):
  • energizeenergize Posts: 961Registered User Member
    Whoa. This thread is really helpful, and definitely wasn't created for nothing. I guess I somehow missed it when I was browsing this forum.

    Now if only I could turn back time and give this advice to my freshman self...
  • epicgeeepicgee Posts: 61Registered User Junior Member
    say i wanted to do lab work or something..

    what if i don't know how to? like apart from easy high school science stuff.
  • 082349082349 Posts: 2,228Registered User Senior Member
    Whoa. This thread is really helpful, and definitely wasn't created for nothing. I guess I somehow missed it when I was browsing this forum.

    Now if only I could turn back time and give this advice to my freshman self...
    Thanks, after getting like 250+ views and no responses, I was convinced that I had created this for nothing.
    say i wanted to do lab work or something..

    what if i don't know how to? like apart from easy high school science stuff.

    Um, usually when I think of lab work, I think of washing beakers and stuff.

    Did you mean doing an actual lab research project? Something like what they do at RSI and SSP?
  • intparentintparent Posts: 10,203Registered User Senior Member
    Not for nothing, GREAT SUGGESTIONS! Just trying to figure out how to present it to D without turning her off :D
  • cynical555cynical555 Posts: 39Registered User New Member
    So how would the email look like if I did not have a proposal and simply wanted to work as an assistant. However, I would not want to be treated simply as the test-tube washer or any other similar title. I would like to help collect data or help setup equipment and maybe even contribute to the project intellectually.If my research interest was in physics, who would I go to and what type of college? Within my area there are two colleges on two opposite extremes--Caltech and Calstate L.A. Which one would I gain more experience from? Assuming I was accepted as an intern at caltech would I likely be doing menial work?
  • 082349082349 Posts: 2,228Registered User Senior Member
    Hmm, I haven't encountered this before but the type of internship that you're asking for is quite hard to get.

    When I was doing my project, I found out that the people who were in the same lab as me all had their own project to do. In fact, the only people who could help the professor collect data and conduct experiments were the college students.

    I'm not sure about the choice of school because I don't know too much about them.
  • scienceluvrscienceluvr Posts: 26Registered User New Member
    This is helpful! So I emailed a couple of professors about researching in their labs (im a junior). Are you saying that high school students dont really have a chance to do their own research projects in labs?? Like are high schoolers who are allowed into the labs just there to help the researcher do stuff, but not really do their own research? Thanks!!
  • chasehollchaseholl Posts: 1,005Registered User Senior Member
    That depends on the lab, of course. Often, you'll be stuck doing data analysis or some other less-than-fun task while the grad students do all the "real" experimenting. However, I know a few people whose professors let them conduct some actual hands-on experiments. You'll get more out of the latter, obviously--unless you like boring data reading.
  • sMITtensMITten Posts: 609Registered User Member
    In order to do independent research, there has to be independent funding. So high school research is usually just about helping out the professor.
  • sesamesesamesesamesesame Posts: 153Registered User Junior Member
    When you said that labwork was about washing beakers, then what would someone do if they weren't interested in science? I want to do research or be some kind of assistant to a computer science professor, but I'm not sure what that would consist of.
  • chasehollchaseholl Posts: 1,005Registered User Senior Member
    Data analysis/recording, possibly? I know someone who spent a summer doing that ... he thought it was a waste of his time, but that was because he worked in a really boring biology lab with graduate students that did all the "real" research.
  • karaokemachinekaraokemachine Posts: 910Registered User Member
    This was an excellent post. Thank you!
  • iluvcakeiluvcake Posts: 91Registered User Junior Member
    Would you simply ask local universities or ones that are known to accept internships?
  • sMITtensMITten Posts: 609Registered User Member
    last year i contacted any... it may even be a little late now for you, but instead of waiting for responses here, just start contacting... start with your lesser choices first, while you work out how to say/ask what you want, so that you appear more intelligent when you contact the one you really want to work with :-).
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