There are many, many options, and the good news is that they tend to pay. A lot of programs run over the summer, but a few will hire you for fall or spring semester. This is where a lot of students start telling me “oh, I can’t do that.” I was one of them myself, back in the day, but I did it anyway! Don’t be afraid to spend a few months outside your hometown or take a summer away from classes, even if it means being away from your significant other for a few months or graduating a little later. And don’t worry about living expenses too much–if you’re going to be in another city, they’ll most likely pay your living expenses and put you in campus housing. Plus there’s the stipend that should cover rent back home, if you’re not subletting your apartment. Bottom line: don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone for 10 weeks or so to do an internship! Getting in some experience is vital to finding a job once you graduate! (Even if you intend to go to grad school–we all finish someday!)
First, the what: here are a few of the programs out there. It’s a good idea to search for others, too, because this list is by no means comprehensive. (Please comment with links, though, so I can keep this updated!)
Because I teach at two community colleges, I would be seriously remiss in not posting programs that would directly benefit my students first!
- Let’s start the list local: here are some summer internships at UCSB, aimed at community college students!
- There is also a community college internship program run by the Department of Energy. The DOE runs the national labs, which are awesome places to do science! Great for chemistry, physics and engineering students; there may be some projects available in life or earth sciences as well.
- The NIH also offers a summer program for CC students! This is great for anyone interested in biomedical research.
- There’s even a NASA program for CC students.
There are many other programs, too, and while they’re not specifically targeted at CC students, there’s no reason to believe a bright CC student is any less intelligent, qualified or capable of succeeding than an undergrad at an Ivy league school.
- This is a comprehensive, searchable list of all the NSF REU programs and is updated annually. Pretty much all sciences are represented here.
- The internship program I did, back in 2007, was run by the NNIN. It is very nanotech-oriented, and is especially well-suited for engineers, physicists and chemists. You’ll probably spend some time in the cleanroom if you do this program–it’s a great way to get in some bunny suit experience.
- The DOE also has another internship program that would place you at a national lab.
- Here’s another that’s more biologically oriented, from Cold Spring Harbor Lab.
Some companies also offer internships and co-ops. This is by no means a comprehensive list, so if there’s a company that interests you, check their site and see if they offer anything!
Now that you know some of the programs that are available, you might wonder how to get in. First, keep your grades as high as possible! Many, though perhaps not all, of the programs require at least a 3.0 GPA. While you’re focusing on your classes, make sure you spend some time with your professors at office hours, because you’ll need several letters of recommendation. These will carry the most weight if they’re written by professors with solid backgrounds in research who hold doctorates. Make sure you ask well in advance–profs are often very busy! It’s also not a bad idea to remind us a week or so before the letter is due. Most of your letter writers will ask to see a resume or CV, so go ahead and prepare yours–there are many, many guides that give examples. It’s easy to start now, while your list of experience is short, and add to it as your career progresses. If your internship program requires an essay, it’s very important that you finish it well in advance and get it looked over! If there’s a writing center on your campus, they might be able to offer advice, and your letter writers can also help you out.
 I went to a state school because that’s what was cheapest. I was 17 when I started college, and my parents had told me they wouldn’t be paying my tuition. They also didn’t know anything about filling out a FAFSA or getting financial aid, so I was sort of in the dark there. I did luck out and get a lot of scholarships, but I also felt like I’d missed out on something by not applying to any other schools, because my grades and test scores were pretty good. It wasn’t until I aced my entrance exams in grad school that I realized my state university had given me a great education. I finally made my peace with not going to a fancy college when I met my DOE SCGF cohort, many of whom were either alumni or current graduate students of places like Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Caltech. It does not matter where you start, as long as you are willing to work hard and seize the opportunities that are available to you.