Summer Research Opportunities for Undergraduates

Summer is a great time to get involved in research, whether it's in a field you intend to study seriously, or in one you just want to try out. There are many opportunities for funding, as you'll see below, and you are encouraged to take advantage of these. Note that most REU application deadlines run from mid January to late February, so you should get started right away.

In addition to being a fun way to spend your summer, a research job will (1) allow you to learn lots of things, (2) give you a flavor of what grad school and industry are like, if these are in your plans, and (3) allow various scientists to get to know you and your work, which is always a good thing (actually, a necessary thing) when it comes time to obtain letters of recommendation.

Some programs require you to have completed your sophomore or junior year, but there are also plenty that are available for freshmen. So if you're interested in doing research, there's no excuse for not getting started early! Start searching around, an join in the fun!

Your summer research can be funded in five basic ways. The funds may come from:

  1. An REU program (this money comes from the NSF).
  2. Other organized programs that aren't REU's.
  3. The Physics Department.
  4. Various Harvard fellowships/programs.
  5. A specific faculty member (that is, from internal lab funds).

In more detail, these five basic ways to get funding are:

  1. REU Programs: Professors throughout the country can apply for "Research Experiences for Undergraduates" (REU) grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Undergraduates in turn can apply to these programs for the opportunity to do summer research. There are many programs in a variety of scientific fields. The application deadlines generally run from late January to early March. The webpage with the list of all the existing programs is:

    NSF's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program

    There are lots and lots of fields listed here, including Physics, Materials Research, Astronomy, Chemistry, Computer Science, Biology, and many more. So don't just look at the Physics ones! Programs are sometimes added late to the list, so check it periodically for changes.
  2. Non-REU Programs: There are many other programs that are funded by various departments/agencies/schools, but that are not REU's. Unfortunately, there is no concise list of these, but flyers and posters for many of them are on the bulletin board in the Lyman lobby. Here's a list of some websites (if you know of any other non-REU programs like these, please let David Morin know!):

    The Nucleus searchable database
    Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) at National Labs, funded by DOE
    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
    DOE Scholars Program
    Caltech's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) and other programs
    Summer Research Opportunities at Harvard (SROH)
    Summer Internship Programs at Fermilab
    Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF), funded by NIST
    Research Internships in Science and Engineering (in Germany)
    NASA Internships
    AT&T Undergraduate Research Program
    Lincoln Labs/MIT
    Princeton Plasma Physics Lab
    American Association of Physicists in Medicine
    Netherlands Foundation for Research in Astonomy
    Wolfram Research (Mathematica)
    National Security Agency
    NCAR Computational Science
    Harvard's Office of Career Services
    Google  (you never know what you'll find...)
  3. The Harvard Physics Department has some money available for summer research on campus. The deadline for proposals (submitted to Lyman 238) is Wednesday, March 30, 2016. See David Morin for an application and more info.

    The basic strategy for finding a professor and forming a proposal is to look around for a few professors whose work interests you, and to then start knocking on doors and sending out emails. Informal, but effective. You can learn about the faculty here.

    These funds are limited, which means that the larger the number of students who stay on campus, the smaller the funding amount will be. You are therefore strongly encouraged to apply to REU programs. If you don't have a specific reason to stay at Harvard over the summer, it would be a shame to ignore the mindboggling number of REUs out there. If you decide to decline them in favor of a lab here at Harvard, that's fine. But for at least one summer you should take advantage of the opportunity to explore things and visit another university. Travel around the world, see interesting places, meet exotic people, and do physics.

    If you end up doing reseach here at Harvard, your funding will likely come from a combination of sources: Physics Dept, HCRP, PRISE (if accepted), and internal lab funds.
  4. Harvard has various other souces of funding:

    There are many programs listed on the Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (URAF) page. In particular:

    1) In order to be considered for Physics Dept funding, you MUST also submit your proposal to the Harvard College Research Program (HCRP). Their deadline is also Wednesday, March 30, 2016 (at noon). And the application is essentially the same.

    2) You can also take advantage of the splendid PRISE Program, which offers housing along with social and educational events. You are strongly encouraged to apply. Note that the deadline is fairly early: Tuesday, February 16, 2016.

    3) You should also seriously consider applying for the Herchel Smith Fellowship. The deadline is very early: Wednesday, February 10, 2016. This is a fantastic fellowship. If you get it, it basically takes care of all your summer-money worries.

    4) If you are interested in going abroad, you should consider the Weissman Fellowship. You can also search the Funding Database for International Experience for available funds.

    5) Other Harvard sources of funding can be found on the Office of Career Services page and on the above URAF page.
  5. Internal lab funds:  You can avoid all the above funding issues by going directly to a professor who happens to have some grant money available for undergraduate summer research. Some do, some don't. This strategy definitely requires some running around. But note well -- it would be very unwise to use only this strategy unless you have an early guarantee that it's going to work.

Final note: As you travel around the world to exotic places (doing research, vacationing, etc.), take a photo of yourself holding the physics department bumper sticker. You can either print out a copy, or stop by Lyman 238 to pick one up.

Contact David Morin if you have any questions. Good luck!!

[Note: The Harvard funds listed on this page are available only to Harvard students.]

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