Monday, November 19, 2007

Internships: advice for aspiring scientists

Last week in lab I told my students they should use some down time over Thanksgiving break and winter break to look for internships and summer jobs. I wish I had been encouraged earlier in my college career to consider things like Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs. I want my students to start thinking about what they can do this summer (or next summer, or the summer after) because this is the time of year to do it. REU applications are due in February or March and they've got to get it together. Plus, I hope some people will be inspired by all of the awesome opportunities out there in science, and especially in ecology since that's my particular passion.

I spent a long time composing an email to my students about internships (tacked onto some housekeeping about grades so hopefully they'll read it). I linked to the REU program finder site, the Student Conservation Association (SCA) site, and heaps of internship opportunities in Big City. I did an REU program after my junior year of college. I applied to several programs but was only accepted to one in Kansas, not my first choice. It ended up being an awesome summer; I had a great roommate, experienced life in a college town, and did some cool research with someone who was a great advisor. I learned that I wasn't particularly interested in his research paradigm or system, but I did learn a lot about the process of becoming a scientist and life in academia.

The typical REU stipend when I was in Kansas was $3000 for the 10 week program. They also provide housing, food, and travel reimbursement to get you there. As I was poking around REU programs for my students, I discovered the going rate for this summer is $4000 plus room and board and travel. A quick calculation tells me that this (if you assign more than $500 for the housing, food, and travel reimbursement) is more than I make as a TA in 10 weeks. I earn approximately $440 per week before taxes and have to pay rent, bills, and buy food with that. Kind of sad, really, but I'm glad the REU students can earn a decent wage for doing summer research. I think the biggest bummer about REU programs is that you can't participate the summer after you graduate. I'm an advocate of taking time off before going to grad school and an REU program would be a great thing to do during the first summer in the "real" world.

Today one of my students emailed me to say she's interested in plants and wants to talk about career options and grad school. I think she was interested in pharmacy school or something at the beginning of the semester so I'm thrilled to hear she wants to talk about plants. I can't wait to tell her about all of the cool things she can do and study.


Anne-Marie said...

I agree that the REU program is great, but mine was a terrible experience. . . I don't want to name the place publicly, but e-mail me at and I'll give you a warning about one institution you might want to advise your students to avoid when applying for REU programs.

Paulina said...

Great roommate? Me too! What a coincidence :) I seem to recall mine was a very inspiring little ball of energy who would not let something as minor as mono keep her away from ultimate fresbee and dancing.
Rock on!