STEM Summer Research

What are my options for summer research?

There are two types of opportunities for summer research for undergraduates.

Working with a research mentor  

Students can work with a researcher, such as a professor, in the summer just as they would during the academic year.  In addition to opportunities at the home institution and other universities, there are positions available in many sectors, including the federal or state government, non-profits and industry.  

These positions are characterized by the variety of arrangements possible, depending on what the mentor and student agree to. The position may be full or part-time; paid, volunteer, or for credit; and may continue research begun from the previous academic year or may be carried on into the following academic year.  The summer research may be part of a senior thesis or independent project.

This web page focuses primarily on formal summer research programs.  For more information on finding and joining a research group, go to Join a Lab or Research Group.

Formal summer research programs 

Students in these programs work with a mentor on a well defined research project for 8-10 weeks, usually not at their home institution. Many programs have specific groups of students, such as students from community colleges or under-represented minorities, that they target.

SRPs typically include a group of students, a formal application process, a stipend, room and board, and funding for travel and for presenting results.  Most programs also include supplemental activities, such as professional development workshops, speakers, and field trips.

If the summer project is successful, many mentors will continue to work with students in the following academic year.  

Go Back To Top

Why should I do a Summer Research Program (SRP)?

An SRP can be very formative for students.  Major benefits include:

        • Experience in the culture of another academic community
        • Engaging in the practice of your discipline
        • Creating knowledge, not just consuming it
        • Supplementing your coursework with hands-on experience
        • Gaining experience that can help you be more competitive for graduate school or a job involving research
        • Career exploration
        • A reference letter from a researcher from outside of UCSC
        • Funding!! A stipend, travel costs, and housing
        • Presentation opportunities
        • New friends

Go Back To Top

When should I do a SRP?

Students usually do a SRP the summer after the second or third year of college.  First years do not usually have the necessary background, and many programs don't accept students who have already graduated.

Note:  Some students stay for an extra fall term so they can be eligible for another summer research season before graduating.

Go Back To Top

What is a typical timeline to apply? 

Fall (and before!)

        • Develop relationships with professors so that you have reference letters (see reference letters)
        • Begin to prepare your Curriculum Vitae or resume (see Application Tips)
        • Find programs (see Finding a SRP)
        • Email the program coordinator with questions (start date, eligibility, potential mentors, etc.)
        • Read the websites of some of the mentors and/or any presentation session done by students in past years

Winter to early spring

        • Prepare your applications (see Application Tips)
        • Make sure to proof read for grammar, style, relevance to prompt, etc.
        • Request reference letters (see Application Tips)
        • Submit your application on time
        • Confirm your application was received (if necessary)
Deadlines are usually December to March 

Go Back To Top

How can I talk to my family about a SRP?

Before you apply, talk to your family about what a SRP is and why it is important for you to particiapte in one for you to acheive your academic and career goals.  Your family may be supportive immediately, or they may also worry because they do not understand why it is important for you live away from home and travel to a place where they do not know anyone.  

For more suggestions, see Discussing Summer Research and Graduate School with your Family from Pathways to Science 

How do I find a SRP?

        • Networking Your fellow students, your TAs, graduate students and professors can be some of the best resources.  Ask what summer programs they recommend.
        • Student Groups often have students who have done SRPs.  Ask members what programs they suggest and for tips for applying.
        • Online lists and databases Ask fellow students where they look for listings.  Each discipline has sites where programs usually get posted. See Other Research Opportunities for links by discipline and for selected federal program.
        • Professional organization websites Ask what groups researchers in your field belong to, and then check the website for listings.
        • Google searches  on "(major) undergraduate research summer" can be very helpful.

Go Back To Top

What are the eligibility requirements?

Eligibility varies by program.  Check each program's eligibility requirements carefully.  If you have any questions, email the coordinator.

Specific requirements may include:

        • Full-time student status for the following academic year
        • Year in college
        • Minimum GPA (often 3.0 or 3.5)
        • US Citizenship or permanent residency
        • Member of a target group such as community college students or students from under-represented minorities in the field. 

Go Back To Top

I am an international student at UCSC. What programs can I apply for?

There are many programs that accept international students, primarily at private institutions or companies where the program is not directly funded by the US federal government.  A professor or graduate student in your field is the best resource for finding programs that are a good match for you.

Start by looking at the following links:

Go Back To Top

What is included in an application?

Applications can be extensive and typically require:

        • A comprehensive general application
        • Essays and/or personal statements
        • Transcripts
        • 2 or more reference letters from STEM faculty (see reference letters below)

Go Back To Top

How many reference letters will I need?

You will need at least 2 reference letters from professors.  Programs often do not accept letters from lecturers, staff, graduate students, or TAs.  A letter from a professor in a non-science field like arts or humanities is likely not relevant.

Note: If you get to know a TA for a class well, the TA can help you connect with the professor.  You can ask the TA for advice on how to approach the professor for a reference, and sometimes a professor will sign a letter of support written by a TA who knows your work well.

Go Back To Top

How do I get a strong reference letter if I don't have any research experience?

Go to Office Hours!  You need to start building relationships with professors long before applications for summer programs are due.  When you first meet with a professor, start by asking how s/he got to her or his current position.  People usually like to talk about themselves, and this question can help get a conversation started.

        • Starting your first year, pick a class each term and go to the professor's office hours weekly. If you are taking general classes for your major, you can talk to any math, science, engineering, etc. professor. Once you are taking classes in your major, professors for upper-division classes in your field are the best choice.
        • Ask the professor how s/he got involved in research
        • Read the professor's webpage and some publications and ask questions. (Don't worry if you don't understand the papers well!  You are an undergraduate.) This shows initiative and that you are interested in the professor's research.
        • Ask for advice on any relevant topic:  finding a summer program, joining a research group, preparation for graduate school, etc.
        • At the end of the quarter ask if the professor would write you a letter
        • Check in with the professor at least a few times a quarter so s/he remembers you

See Getting strong letters of recommendation (from UC Berkeley)

Go Back To Top

What if the start date for the program is while I am still in classes?

UCSC uses a quarter system, and summer programs often start before UCSC is done with spring quarter.  You can do either of the following:

1.  Apply to programs and then see if you can negotiate some flexibility with the program and/or your professors if you have a conflict with the start date. Some professors will let an excellent student finish early to take advantage of a good research opportunity.

2.  Contact the program to see if there is flexibility.  If not, don't apply.

Go Back To Top

I am already well established in a research group.  Should I leave for the summer for a SRP?

There is not a single correct answer to this question.  Some points to consider:

        • Summer programs are usually paid
        • Staying in a research group for the summer can let you focus on your research.  If you'll make a lot of progress and be able to do a senior thesis and/or help with a publication, it may be helpful to stay.
        • A reference letter from a summer programs mentor is not usually as strong as a letter from a professor you work with for a long time period.  You just can't get to know someone that well in 8-10 weeks.  If there is an opportunity to continue the summer project into the following academic year and writing a paper or doing a senior thesis, the letter from a summer mentor will be much stronger.

Go Back To Top

What is a REU?

The Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) a National Science Foundation (NSF) program. See for the database entry for more information. 

Go Back To Top

Additional Resources

UCSC Undergraduate Research Opportunities

How to talk about summer research and graduate school with your family

Application Help