Common Myths about Summer Research Programs

Now is the time when summer research programs are frantically sending out flyers and email reminders advertising their programs.  You might even see deadline extended which is code for “we didn’t get enough applicants” something which happens all too often. But why? If there are so many great paid opportunities why don’t more students apply to summer research programs  Part of the reason is because there is a lot of misleading information that discourages students from applying. Let’s debunk some of these common myths:


1) It’s very unlikely that you’ll get a publication during a summer REU or make any substantial discovery in only ten weeks.  Don’t tell that to Wolf Cukier, a seventeen year old high school student who discovered a new planet after only three days at a NASA Internship at Goddard Space Flight Center   What Cukier thought was a solar eclipse turned out to be a planet. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/15/learning/internship-planet-lesson-plan.html 

What will you discover this summer?

I have seen REU students become co-authors on papers as a result of the research that they conducted during a summer REU stint.  A lot of it depends on the field and the research area. The fact of the matter is that some areas publish more often than others. It may sound impossible but believe me, it isn’t.  Also, even if you don’t submit to a scientific journal you can present your research at a conference. The key is to work with your faculty and graduate mentors who will be excited to support you in these types of endeavors.

2) Programs are only looking for students with previous research experience.
WRONG!  Did you know that many programs are looking for students with no prior research experience?  In fact, some programs specifically want students who haven’t had research experience or students who come from schools with limited research opportunities such as community colleges.

3) If you don’t have at least a 3.5 it’s not even worth applying.
Wrong!  Programs like the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP) which is housed at many Ivy League schools and CalTech’s LIGO program accept students with 2.5 GPA’s.  In addition, you may notice that a lot of programs do not even list a minimum GPA. Programs that intentionally do not list a minimum GPA are generally looking for students from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.  I’ve seen 3.0 students get selected over 3.9 students because they have glowing letters of recommendation and are passionate about the subject matter. 

Programs that intentionally do not list a minimum GPA are generally looking for students from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.

4) If you’re not a US Citizen you’ll never get an REU.
Wrong again!  Part of the reason I started REU Finder is because I wanted an easy way for international students and undocumented students to find opportunities. Your citizenship status should not have any bearing on whether or not you can become a researcher.  Often the citizenship requirement is tied to the funding source. Schools like Stanford have dedicated funding to support students who do not qualify for NSF funded research programs.

5) It’s better to do summer research on your home campus and not jump around to other schools.  Negative.  To be honest, if you’re thinking about applying to graduate school you want to cast your net as wide as possible.  Maybe you’ve been doing research at your home institution during the semester and then you find an opportunity on another campus that seems interesting.  Why not explore this option? Just make sure you let your PI know ahead of time. They will likely encourage this and you can continue your research when you return in the fall.  

I hope I have convinced you to apply to a program this summer! If you like REU Finder support us by clicking on one of our sponsor links.

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