There are tons of things that you can do over the summer that are certainly worth your time. Everything from programs, projects, reading, working, and of course writing it all down so that you have excess content to play with for your college application essays.
All of that said, we’ve gotten this question a lot: what is the best possible thing that I can do with my summer? We don’t often rank experiences because we don’t want to make you feel like what you’re doing is wrong. Kidding. We rank experiences and tell you what to do and what not to do all of the time. We’ll continue this trend by letting you in on the secret of summer. If you want to get the most out of your summer (both in terms of personal growth, learning, and maximum resume, essay, and college appeal impact), you are going to want to do research over the summer.
Getting a position working with a professor or scientist doing research isn’t the easiest thing you’ve ever done, but that’s why it’s so valuable. Very few people actually do it and colleges pay attention when applicants pop up talking about their experience as a research assistant or research intern at that cool tech lab, chemistry lab, or department at a university. Here’s why research is so valuable:
You’re contributing to real life work
In order to acquire funding for research projects, people have to go through a rigorous application process. They’ve put in a lot of time and effort to get to the execution process, so your supervisor is taking this research incredibly seriously. This works to your benefit. In the best-case scenario, and if you do an incredible job, you might even get a by-line and then you’d be published. That’s more than most college graduates can say.
You’re starting to make professional contacts
By establishing your professional network so early on, you’re setting yourself up for success in terms of recommendation letters, future connections, and mentorship. Guidance is hard to come by. Don’t mess it up.
It’s all of the benefits of a job, and you won’t be bored
Well, we can’t reassure you that you’ll be paid or that you won’t have to spend a decent amount of time entering data into spreadsheets, but in the eyes of application reviewers, a research job is as legit a job as any. You’re getting up, you’re going to work, you’re sticking to a schedule, reporting to a supervisor, being held accountable for your actions, and are working to be a part of a team and accomplish a larger set of goals. That’s solid experience.
You’re building on an existing interest
Conducting research or being exposed to a research environment in your field of interest is the best thing that you can do to help expand your conception of that interest. It will help you figure out which direction you want to go in and will help you specialize your interest.
So, how do you get a research opportunity? It takes a lot of, you guessed it, research and outreach. But if you’re committed, your efforts will pay off. We recommend that students log on to a local college or university’s website, go to the website of their department or topic of interest, and literally go through and contact faculty member by faculty member with your elevator pitch.
An elevator pitch email consists of: your interests, qualifications, and what you’re seeking. This is where less is more. Think of it as a marketing pitch—you want to get them to pay attention and reply, which is rare. So be pithy and draw them in with your enthusiasm and professionalism. Let us know if you need help crafting these notes. They are hard to edit down and it’s easy to send a wordy email, but try to avoid excess information and anything that really makes you sound like you’re a high schooler. The goal is to come off as capable, motivated, and mature beyond your years.
Below are some resources that we’ve found to be helpful for students who are looking for research opportunities in their area. As we said though, it’s best to contact faculty directly. Do some digging on a university or college website. You’ll find more specific information on what research is being conducted and by whom on those websites which will increase your chances of getting a reply and getting your foot in the door.
· RSI through MIT
· Finding a STEM mentor
· Internships at Stanford
Remember: you’re in high school which means that most places won’t want to bring you on. But, the more that you can demonstrate that you’ll bring real and unique value to the team, the more inclined they’ll be to offer you some insight into this great field of research. Be respectful, but persistent, and do everything that you can to get in there.
Let us know if you need help tackling this opportunity. We know it can seem overwhelming, but trust us—it’s worth it.