Or a summer of on-campus research may have left you thinking
you’d like to continue doing research, but in a different setting.
That doesn’t mean you’re stuck! Instead, try working in labs outside
of your home institution. A number of institutions offer opportunities for undergraduates who are from other institutions to conduct
The most well-known of these opportunities are the Research
Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs) funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). These are competitive, 10-week paid internship programs hosted at various universities across the country.
The fact that these research internships involve a nationwide competition means they are imbued with a certain amount of prestige,
which will stand out on all of your employment or graduate and
professional school applications.
The REU application process is institution-specific and usually
consists of letters of recommendation and other supporting documents such as your résumé, transcripts, and personal statement.
Typically, the applications are due in February or March for research
opportunities that begin in May or June of the same year.
Even if you attend an institution where on-campus research
opportunities abound, you may want to consider an REU or other
off-campus opportunity. It’s a good way to broaden your professional network and experience conducting research at different
types of institutions. If you do research at a school you are considering for grad school, it is also a chance to network and obtain a letter
of recommendation from a faculty member at that institution. If
you attend a two-year college or PUI, a summer at a research university is a fantastic way to test-drive being a graduate student.
Finally, if you’ve never moved out of your home state, it’s a chance
to push yourself out of your comfort zone before you consider
applying to out-of-state grad schools.
Undergraduate research and medical school
If you are hypothesizing that you want a career in medicine, a
medical school REU provides you with great networking opportunities and allows you to make an informed decision about including
research in your career. Moreover, admission to medical school is
very competitive, so gaining medical research experience will help
your application rise above the competition. It also provides you
with exposure to current research being done to evolve the field of
medicine. Remember also that your choice to go to medical school
does not mean you cannot do research, or vice versa; more than
100 U.S. medical schools have M.D./Ph.D. programs, so there are
opportunities for flexibility.
Outside of academia: industrial
and government research
If pursuing a career in industry or government is an intriguing
hypothesis for you, you are not alone. According to the 2014 ACS
Salary and Employment Survey, 60% of ACS members are employed
in industry or government. While the vast majority of academic
careers center around research, industry and government careers
have a broader range of options, such as technician, analyst, manager, and, yes, researcher. Experimenting with these options means
pursuing a summer internship.
Internships offer a number of advantages. First, they give you
valuable experience in professional environments. Not only will
this experience stand out on your future résumé, but it will also
give you insight into industry and government, which are very different work environments from academia. Second, they enable you
to explore careers that do not require an advanced degree. Third,
there are opportunities to network with professional chemists,
technicians, analysts, and so forth, and learn more about potential
careers. An internship can help you decide (a) whether you want a
career in industry or government, and (b) what type of degree you
need (e.g., A.A.S., B.S., M.P.S., M.B.A.). If your professor has industry
connections (particularly common in chemistry-based technology
programs), you can ask him or her for internship contacts; your
career center is another likely internship resource.
On-campus research, off-campus research, and internships
are all great experiments for testing your hypotheses regarding
your preferred career path. Remember that experiences can vary
greatly from one institution to the next. As with most research,
the more experiments you can conduct, the sounder your conclusions will be.
Shannen Cravens received her B.A. in chemistry from the
University of San Diego and is on track to complete her Ph. D.
in molecular biophysics at the Johns Hopkins University
School of Medicine in summer 2016. She can be reached at
• www.acs.org/GetExperience — ACS’s “Get Experience” database of
internships, REUs, co-ops, and more
• www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/reu_search.jsp — National Science
• www.acs.org/DGRweb — ACS’s Directory of Graduate Research (look
under “REU Experiences”)
• www.pathwaystoscience.org — Institute for Broadening
Participation’s Pathways to Science website
American Association of Medical Colleges’ REU program
• www.training.nih.gov/programs/sip — National Institutes of Health
(NIH) biomedical undergrad research program
• www.looksharp.com/s/chemistry-internships — InternMatch
database of chemistry internships