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Applying to Summer Undergraduate Research Programs: Why, How, and More!

The Center for Genetically Encoded Materials (C-GEM) Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) is one of many undergraduate research experience (URE) programs that allows a student to do research in a lab over the course of a summer and get paid! Having a summer job in a research lab is pretty great, and is one reason why UREs have become increasingly popular over the past decade. Research experiences have great benefits for students, as they can help to shape science identity, clarify career plans, provide preparation for graduate and/or professional school, and enhance learning of scientific content and practices [1, 2, 3].

Because of these benefits, gaining a SURPs or URE slot can be very competitive. While the majority of UREs require prior research experience in order to be admitted to the program, theC-GEM SURP does not. We recognize that without an initial research experience, it can be challenging to become a competitive applicant for research experiences or graduate school later in your academic career. Because of this challenge, C-GEM is pleased to offer SURP slots to undergraduates regardless of previous research experience!

Now you might be thinking, how can I complete a competitive application for this program? The answer is in your interest statement! (P.S. Don’t let this answer stop you from applying, because while the probability of getting into any one program may be low, deciding not to apply drops your chances to zero!)

The application for C-GEM’s SURP requires the following:

  • Information about you
  • Information about your institution and intended major(s)
  • Unofficial transcript(s)
  • An interest statement
  • A letter of recommendation

As we mentioned above, the interest statement is the most important component of an application. For C-GEM’s SURP, the interest statement needs to include your reasons for applying to our program, how your participation in our program may assist in meeting your future academic goals and/or career plans, and how you believe you will contribute to our program and C-GEM as a whole, in 500 words or less.

So what are we looking for? Below are some tips for writing a compelling interest statement!

  1. First and foremost, we want the interest statement to be a reflection of YOU, not of what you think we want to hear. We love reading interest statements through which your personality and passions shine. What made you interested in science? What makes you curious? What makes you motivated to learn and ask questions about science?
  2. Second, we want to know what your reasons are for applying to our program. We 100% understand that there are a lot of benefits to participating in summer research programs, but what is it about the C-GEM SURP that caught your attention? Why is applying for a chance to work with C-GEM important to you? Why are our science and areas of research interesting to you? We know that answers to these questions will vary widely, so we recommend thinking about what you want to learn from C-GEM, and what unique features, experiences, faculty, or other factors are you most excited about when you think about our summer program.
  3. Next, we want to gain insight into why (and/or how) you think our program will help you reach your future academic goals and/or career plans. You should make your career plans/goals clear while you answer this question, even if you’re not exactly sure what you want to do quite yet. One really amazing aspect of summer research programs is that they can help you hone your personal understanding of the parts of research that you do enjoy, and aspects of research that you might not like. This information will help you narrow down your career path! Still, when answering this question, we encourage you to think about what your current goals are; what areas of science interest you the most; in what types of institutions would you most thrive; what your personal priorities, preferences, and/or limitations are; where you want to live, work, or study after graduation; and anything else that you think is important to mention. To summarize, we want to know what your goals are and how you think C-GEM will help you reach them (or help pinpoint your goals if they are not currently well-defined.)
  4. Additionally, we are interested in learning about how you think you will contribute to our program and to the C-GEM community. Remember, while C-GEM will be assessing your potential as a SURP candidate, we also expect you to assess us! We want to know your potential, how you will be an asset to our team as a student and a scientist, and whether your skill set includes knowledge, practical skills, ability to work with others, personality traits, or all/any of the above.
  5. Lastly, don’t forget that we expect you to answer all of the questions in the prompt, and be able to tie all of your responses together into a cohesive essay that helps you convey a clear and thoughtful picture of yourself.

We recommend taking some time to think through your responses (and maybe take some notes or make an outline) before you begin writing your interest statement. We know it is a lot to include in a piece of writing, and we want you each to succeed!

We can’t wait to read all the applications we receive, and hope we can offer you a spot in our program!

Other Resources:

Search for other programs:

National Science Foundation REU sites by field:

More FAQs on how to apply to REUs: 


[1] Lopatto, D. Undergraduate Research Experiences Support Science Career Decisions and Active Learning. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 2017, 6 (4).

[2] Seymour, E.; Hunter, A.; Laursen, S. L.; DeAntoni, T. Establishing the benefits of research experiences for undergraduates in the sciences: First findings from a three-year study, Science Education, 2004, 88 (4), 493-534.

[3] Helix, M. R.; Coté, L. E.; Stachl, C. N.; Linn, M. C.; Stone, E. M.; Baranger, A. M. Measuring integrated understanding of undergraduate chemistry research experiences: Assessing oral and written research artifacts. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, Accepted.

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