Applying to the NIH Summer Internship Program (SIP)

>>Sharon Milgram:
Good afternoon. I’m Dr. Sharon Milgram. Today, I’m going
to talk with you about the NIH
Summer Internship Program. So, I want to start
the video today about applying to
the Summer Internship Program by first talking briefly
about the NIH. The mission of the NIH
is to uncover new knowledge that will lead to better
health for everyone. We accomplish this mission
through the work of 27 separate
institutes and centers. So, it’s important
to understand it’s not the National
Institute of Health. It’s actually the National
Institutes of Health. Most of the NIH institutes,
or ICs, have two major divisions, an extramural division
and an intramural division. Extramural NIH supports research
and training outside of the NIH by funding grants
and fellowships and research on campuses
across the NIH and the globe. The intramural program
in the NIH actually occurs
on NIH campuses. And the intramural program
consists of scientists who are doing research here to tackle major
biomedical research problems. It’s not important for you
to understand or memorize each of the 27
institutes and centers or ICs, but I do want to give you
a little bit of context, because it will help you in considering your application
for the summer. So, shown here in this slide are
all 27 institutes and centers. And you can see that
they each have an acronym and that those acronyms
can be confusing, okay? So, for example, NCI is
the National Cancer Institute. And the focus of the NCI is to
understand the causes of cancer, to develop new treatments,
to study basic science that might contribute
to our understanding of tumorigenesis and metastasis.
So, I’m not going to go through all of the 27 institutes
and centers, but those examples give you
a little bit of a sense of how the NIH is organized. So, let me talk a little bit
about what actually — what types of research
the NIH does and supports. And remember that we support the
biomedical research enterprise, both through extramural funding and through intramural programs
here on campus. Our research is at the basic
level, the translational level, and at the clinical level, meaning we take
very basic observations and try to turn them
into research that can benefit mankind. We use tools from
the behavioral sciences, the biological sciences,
the chemical sciences, computational science, mathematical, physical,
and social sciences. And that’s a really
key thing to understand, that you can get exposure to and learn about
a variety of disciplines. This is not just for people
who love biology. You can take
your love of math and apply it to solving
biomedical problems. You can work in
the public health arena, in a computational lab,
in a wet lab, in a clinical lab. And that’s something very,
very special about our internship program. One of our major missions
is to train the next generation
of biomedical research scientists
and healthcare providers. Obviously,
the students of today are the professionals
of tomorrow. And many of our programs
are specifically focused on helping you receive
the training you need to develop a successful career
in the long term. And so, the Summer
Internship Program is one of those
very unique programs designed to help you
prepare for the future. Now, I’m going to talk about
the Summer Internship Program in the intramural program. So, let me teach you
just a little bit about the intramural
research program. The main campus
is in Bethesda, Maryland. But we actually have campuses
in other areas of Maryland, in North Carolina, in Arizona,
in Michigan, and in Montana. And while the bulk
of the internship opportunities are in the Maryland area, those of you interested
in training at another campus for the summer
should look carefully at what these
other campuses are. The intramural program actually
is in 24 of the 27 institutes that I talked about earlier. And there are over
950 research groups doing public health research,
basic science research, translational research,
and clinical work. So, anything that
you’re interested in is likely represented here
in the intramural program. So, the NIH Summer Internship
Program is a paid internship in an NIH
intramural research group. You can work
in all of those disciplines that I’ve already discussed,
doing research in public health, in the biological sciences,
in the clinical sciences, putting your love of math
and engineering to work within the
biomedical research enterprise. It’s really quite broad. The internship lasts
anywhere from eight to 12 weeks. And I mentioned that
there were paid internships. I’ll also note that sometimes
when investigators don’t have money
for a paid intern, you could also
consider volunteering. The eligibility criteria include
U.S. citizenship or permanent residency status. And you have to be enrolled
in school at least halftime. Note that unlike many
Summer Internship Programs, we welcome applications
from students who are currently seniors
in college and who will be graduating. You can work on
any of the NIH campuses that I mentioned previously,
and you can do an internship at pretty much
any educational level. We have community
college students and college students here. Students who are working
on graduate and professional degrees
at both the Masters level and the PhD level, medical
students, dental students, nursing students,
pharmacy students, et cetera. We welcome individuals
with very, very broad long-term career interests. In addition to working
in a research group and really exploring
some science in depth, we want you to have
an enriching experience outside of your lab
or research group. And both the NIH institutes and the OITE offer
a variety of programs to help you further
develop your skills. We have workshops focused
on developing science skills, science communication skills, exposing you to principles
of career readiness, and leadership. We have a large program focused
on resilience and wellness because a big part of succeeding
in high-knowledge careers is learning how to deal
with the inevitable setback that’s a part of both
our educational journey and our research experience. And we want to help those of you who are currently
undergraduates understand better the graduate school
and professional school application process. And so, we have a series
in going to graduate school and a parallel series on
applying to professional school. We have an amazing
summer lecture series, where senior scientists come
and share their careers and their science with you
in lots of community building and networking events,
journal clubs, chances for you to talk
about your own research and your research interests
with your peers and with other members
of the NIH community. And we have two important
major events. One is the graduate
and professional school fair held
in mid-July every year. This is a chance for us to really focus
on the application process, for you to meet recruiters
and representatives from schools
across the country. And we end the summer
with summer poster day, a really energetic
and exciting day, where over 1,000 summer
interns present their research
to the NIH community. The Natcher Conference Center
here on the main Bethesda campus is full
and brimming with people wanting to talk science
with you. Each of the NIH campuses
has a poster day as well. NIH summer interns have access to the OITE Career
Services Center. And you can talk
to a career counselor about career exploration,
about career opportunities, about your resume,
about what you might like to do. We also have pre-graduate
and pre-professional advisors who can help you think
through the process of your next educational step. So, let’s talk a little bit
about applying. And so, I’m going to start
with some general principles, and then we’re
going to dive deeper into various parts
of the application. So first, before you begin,
spend some time reading. First, check out
the OITE-sponsored or IC-specific sub-programs that are listed
on the SIP webpage. These programs have a focus on a
specific population of students. For example,
the community college summer enrichment program, or the graduate program
in data science, or a focus
on a particular topic. For example, the NIH
Amgen program has a focus on the development
of leadership skills while exploring
health disparities. These are sub-programs of the
NIH Summer Internship Program, and you want to make sure
before you apply what program
might be best for you. And alternatively, you might choose
to apply to the broader SIP. Then you should read the FAQs,
and you should read our guide to writing
a successful application. You should read the information
and carefully study the website before emailing us
with questions as well, but especially
before you apply. You want to make sure
to put your best foot forward, and that means really
understanding the application and selection process. We find that students
who submit early do better than students who wait
until the last minute. And we strongly encourage
you to get your application done as quickly as possible. This gives you time to get your
letters of recommendation in, and it gives you time
to really work through the selection process. We’re judging you
by written materials, and this is your chance
to make a good first impression. So, your application should be
grammatically correct, your ideas should
be clearly expressed, your application
should be well-organized, and you should really
address the questions that we asked you
to address. It’s important to remember
that the sub-programs have different
eligibility criteria and different
application deadlines. And so, you will want to pay
very, very careful attention to the instructions
on the sub-program webpages. Furthermore, the application,
while looking very similar, and in fact, it is very similar, we do ask for some different
information in the cover letter. So, you’ll want
to pay careful attention to the prompts
provided on the webpages. Let’s dive deeper now
into the application, which actually
consists of five parts. And the first
is contact information. And that’s generally
just an email address and a cell phone number. Please note that many people
are likely to reach out to you during the holiday time
when you might not be at school. So, you should make sure
to provide an email address that you check regularly. We’ll also ask
for a cover letter, a resume,
letters of recommendation, and a list of your courses
and grades. And I’m going to talk
about each four of those topics in a little bit more detail. Now, I already talked about
reading carefully before you apply, and I just want to stress
this great document, which is tips on
applying successfully. This was put together
with the hope that it will help you
be successful. So, please take a moment
to take a look. Your resume is a concise
representation of your educational
and professional history. It should include
contact information, the schools that you are
attending or have attended, dates and degrees received,
honors and awards, and a separate section
for research experience and other work experience. You want us to be able
to easily see what types of research
experience you’ve had. But we also are interested
in knowing what other types
of work experience you have. We appreciate
that some applicants are first-time researchers, and that your laboratory
and research experience is all classroom-based.
And that’s fine. That’s what
the internship program is for. And so, you can skip that
section on research experience if this is
your first internship. If you have presented
at undergraduate meetings or local or national
scientific meetings, if you have
any abstracts or publications, please include those
in a separate section. In some research groups, the ability to speak
foreign language is valuable. And so, you’ll want
to mention that. And finally,
you’ll want a section on your leadership experience. Organize your resume in
a really clear and concise way. Another way that we will
be evaluating you is through letters
of recommendation. These letters should
come from individuals who know a lot about your
academic and/or research skills. These should be from teachers
who know you well. And they should address both
your scientific knowledge base and relevant personal traits. For example,
your time management skills, your team skills,
your ability to receive feedback and make appropriate changes. In general, we think it’s best
to have these letters come from individuals who know you from
an academic environment. But you might have a boss
or someone outside of school that you feel knows you well. If they can address
characteristics important for success
in research environments, then those would be good people
to ask for letters as well. You should not request letters
from family members or friends. These letters don’t carry
very much weight, because, of course,
our family and friends are very vested
in our success. And in general, it is best
not to ask for letters from coaches on sports teams
or advisors for clubs, unless the club is very,
very relevant to the work
you might like to do at NIH. There’s a section for you
to list your courses and grades. And these are all of
your courses in college, including those that
you are currently enrolled in. If you are a first
semester college freshman, include information
on your high school grades. You should organize
your list by semester and be very, very careful
in transferring your grades from your transcript
to the application system. When an offer is made,
we will request that you send
an official transcript, and we will compare
the transcript to the list you provide. So, please double-check
your list. Take some time
to clean up the list and make it easy to read. Probably the most important
part of your application is the cover letter. So, let’s talk some
about the cover letter. Okay, this is your chance
to talk directly to us and to highlight your motivation
for coming to the NIH. It is also, if you are applying
to one of the sub-programs, your chance to explain to us why you are specifically
interested in that sub-program, why you are uniquely
applying there. You should, in general, discuss three important areas
in your cover letter. First, a little bit about you,
your background. What classes excited you,
why you’re interested in the biomedical research
enterprise or healthcare, your broad science
and research interests. And you should highlight any
previous relevant experience. This can be
classroom-based experience, work-based experience,
or research-based experience. You should use
concrete examples, and be brief but complete.
So, for example, saying, “I have developed science
communication skills” is nowhere near
as good as saying, “I’ve presented at two
undergraduate research meetings, and have gotten feedback
on my presentation skills from my teachers
at my school.” If you’re applying to one
of the OITE sub-programs, discuss the
program-specific elements that are listed on
each of the program webpages. And so, your cover letter
would include everything that I’ve already talked about
plus information specific to the sub-program. One of the things that I think
can be confusing is to decide whether to apply
to one of the sub-programs or the broader SIP. And we’re happy to answer
any questions you have about
making that decision. And at the end of the talk
is contact information. You can also email me
directly with questions. Let’s talk, now that I’ve given
you a broad overview of the application process, let’s talk a little bit
about the process of actually — sort of from start to finish. And I’m going to start first
with the OITE sub-programs. And the key point here
is that the selection process for those sub-programs
happens centrally, okay? So, a committee of OITE and NIH
training directors will read your application and make decisions
about your candidacy. You should, like I’ve already
stressed, read the FAQs, watch the video, read the guide
to successfully applying, then apply
in the central database, being very careful
to pay attention to the fact that the deadlines
for these programs vary. A central committee here in
the OITE makes the selections. And we will notify you
by the date noted online. So, each of the programs has a different
application deadline date and a different
notification date. If you are selected
to participate in the sub-program,
OITE staff will work with you to find an appropriate
research group placement. So, you should not reach out
to individual NIH investigators or PIs during
the application process. And you may have heard
from others that that’s a key part
of the application process. But in this case,
for these programs, it’s not. Now, in the end, if you’re not
admitted to the NIH — to the sub-program
that you apply for, we will help you move
your application to the broader NIH SIP, and then everything that
I’m going to talk about now would apply to you. So, let’s talk
about the broader, general SIP application process.
Same beginning. You apply online
to the central database, read the information, put forth
the best application you can. Now, here’s a key difference
and a really key point: NIH investigators, or PIs, which stands
for principal investigator, or someone
in their research group, a surrogate on their behalf, will search the database
to find candidates. You will greatly increase
your chances of getting an offer by emailing PIs
with a specific email telling them why you’re
interested in working with them. But you should do that only
after you upload your application. Furthermore, your cover letter
needs to be written somewhat broadly, because many different
NIH investigators interested in very different
things will be reading it. Many NIH investigators
interview candidates, and those interviews
are typically by phone. Although, if you’re in the area,
it may be in person. And very important
to understand — unlike the sub-programs where offers are made
by a specific date, for the broader SIP,
offers can be made at any time, generally starting
in mid-December all the way
through the end of April. So, this is
a protracted process. You first apply online. You then reach out
to NIH investigators and go through the selection
process directly with them. So, let’s talk about how is it that you appeal to many PIs
in that cover letter. I want to give you
some guidance about this. So, you don’t want
to be too focused and only appeal to
a small number of people. You also don’t want to be so
general that nobody finds you. So, it’s important
that your cover letter include a discussion
of scientific disciplines that interest you, of model systems that you might
want to learn about, techniques you might want
to explore. So, for example, I’m broadly
interested in cancer biology and want to learn more
about using animal models in cancer research. That gives people an idea
that you want to work in the translational space
looking at cancer biology. You could go
on further to say, “I would be most interested
in studying prostate cancer. But actually, I would welcome
the opportunity to work in any cancer biology group.” You are both focusing
this a little bit, but leaving it broad enough
that many PIs would say, “Oh, that’s a good fit
for my group.” Another example.
Maybe you’re not so focused, and you really are open
to many, many areas, but you know that you want
to really understand the connection between science
and clinical science. So, you could say, “I would enjoy pursuing research
in a variety of areas: heart disease, stem cells,
drug development, other disease-specific areas. For me, the ability
to learn about the bench-to-bedside
research process is more important
than the specific area.” You might point out
that you learned about a specific disease or disease
process or scientific area and that you’d love
to explore it more. The main point here
is to be broad, but not so broad
that we don’t have a sense of what interests you at all. So, how are you going
to find PIs. So, you —
this is a general letter. And now, you are going to begin
the next process, which is narrowing
down your interest and reaching out to PIs. So, there are a variety
of ways to find PIs. And let me start this by saying
that we do not have a database of people who are
looking for summer interns. I know we get
that question dozens of times, and I wish
we could provide that, but this is a very large,
dispersed campus and there are many,
many research groups on many different campuses. And because of that,
we really can’t provide a list. So, you’re going to
have to spend some time doing some work reaching out
to PIs to find a position. In this slide, I give you
a variety of resources to use from the Intramural
Investigator Database, which is also called
the Annual Reports. And you can find a link
to that here. To a list of NIH
intramural investigators grouped by
scientific discipline. So, perhaps you know that you
really want to do neuroscience. You could start right there. You could contact the NIH
intramural training director for institute-specific
information. If you know you’d love
to work on aging, you might want to reach out
first to the training director in the National Institute
on Aging. If you’re interested
in the long-term in becoming an ophthalmologist
or exploring ophthalmology, you should reach out
to the National Eye Institute training director. Likewise, if you’re interested
in dentistry, to the NIDCR. In each of the institutes
is a training director who is there to help you, and the link to their contacts
is on the application website. Some applicants find it helpful
to look at last year’s summer poster day program to find researchers who have
had summer interns in the past. Many, many NIH investigators
hire summer interns. And this gives you a sense
of the types of projects and opportunities
that are available. There’s also a video
not so focused on finding PIs
and what they do, but more focused on what it is
to find a research group, to learn there,
to be comfortable there. And I would encourage you
to watch that video as well. We often hear that searching
the Annual Reports database is overwhelming,
and it can be. And so, let me give you
a few tips about how to do this. The first is not to use terms
that are too broad. So, for example, epidemiology
by itself might be too broad, but epidemiology and children
or epidemiology and cancer will give you
a much more manageable list. So, that’s one key thing,
not too broad. But also, not too narrow. You don’t want to have
one or two options. it could take many more emails
than just a handful. You should use a variety
of keywords. You can use techniques. Maybe you learned
about proteomics, and you think it would be
amazing to spend a summer actually doing some
proteomic experiments as opposed to just
reading about them. You can use diseases. I’m interested
in cystic fibrosis, or I’m interested
in Huntington’s disease. I’m interested in exploring
mechanisms of sickle cell. This gives NIH investigators
who work on those diseases insight into your interest when you mention them
specifically, right? So, this is a great way
for people to find you. Maybe you learned about
using model organisms, like Drosophila or C
elegans or zebrafish. And so, you might mention that. Or maybe you’re really
interested in doing research with human subjects,
and then you’ll want to use a keyword of clinical research
or human subjects. And finally,
you might be interested in a particular organ
or physiological system, the cardiovascular disease,
heart remodel, et cetera. Search the database
using keywords that are relevant for you. And for each of you,
that will be different. Try to come up with a list
of 20 or 30 PIs whose research interests you. You don’t need to read
many papers about them, just read the short description
in the Annual Reports and decide if that would be
a place you might like to work. Then you need to reach
out to them. And I want to start
with some general guidance. Actually, before I do that, I’m going to go back
for a second, and I want to say one
other thing about searching. People have a tendency
to use Google and just say NIH
and cardiovascular disease. You will not find intramural
investigators that way. So, even though the database is
a bit overwhelming, start there. You have a list, and now
the next question is, “What do I do
with that list?” So, you are going
to email investigators and tell them
that you’ve applied to SIP and that you really
are interested in an internship
in their group. Rule number one,
no generic spamming. No, “Dear NIH scientists,
I really want to work with you.” These emails need to be
personalized a little bit. And they need to include
a discussion specifically why you’re
interested in working with them. You learned about
this disease in school, and you wrote a paper,
and it really fascinated you. Someone you know
has experienced that difficulty. You see yourself as
a public health researcher, so doing some
epidemiology research would let you tell
if that’s really a good fit. Why are you interested in
working specifically with them? You should also address why you
are ready to work with them, what specific preparation
you have. You’ve taken
a biochemistry course, and so you feel prepared. Or you had neuroscience,
and so you’re really ready to work
in a cellular neuroscience lab. You can talk to them about
previous research experiences, techniques you know,
techniques you want to learn. And make it easy for them
to learn more about you. So, include your resume
as an attachment, and let them know that
you’ve already applied through the training website. It’s important to know
that you can’t be hired as a summer intern at NIH unless you’ve applied
through this web page. So, please, make every effort
to get your application in before you reach out
to investigators. So, in the next slide,
I actually provide you with an example of a letter, not for you to use
this exact same format, but just to give you an example
of what a PI letter looks like. If you notice, it starts with just
a little bit about yourself, and then it talks a little bit about the research experience
you’ve had, why you might be interested
in this lab, and it ends with contact
information, all right? Here’s my email address.
Here’s my phone number. I look forward
to hearing from you. The honest truth is that
you might have success very, very early emailing
only a handful of investigators. It might take many,
many investigators and many, many emails. We are happy to read
both your cover letter and an example of a PI letter.
We will not edit it carefully. We will not spend a lot of time
going back and forth with you, giving you multiple feedback.
We have thousands of applicants and a need to provide
information to all of them. But we’re happy to help
during the process. Let’s talk briefly
about the interview, because hopefully
you’re going to get contacted by investigators who are going
to want to interview you. So, you, in general, will be asked
about four different things: your previous research
and work experience and educational experience, techniques that you might know
or want to learn about, the question of why my research
group, why did you pick me, and the fourth is your career
goals and interests. We appreciate
that they’re likely to change, but we’re curious
at this point what are you thinking
you might like to do. These phone calls can last
anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. And most of these interviews
are by phone. You should ask a few questions. And it’s really
the kiss of death in an interview
if somebody says, “Do you have
any questions for me?” for you to say no. And so, here are some things
that you might think about. You can ask about
potential projects. You can ask whether you’ll be
working directly with the PI, or there’ll be a postdoc,
a grad student staff scientist, biologist in the group
who will be supervising you. You can ask what summer interns
in the group typically do. Do they work jointly
on a project? Do they help someone? Do they start their own small
side project during the summer? And the mentoring video
might give you some other ideas of things that you might ask
about the environment and about the expectations that
they have of summer interns. This is a long
application process. It starts with
the online applications, and then it involves
lots of follow-up. For those of you applying
to the OITE-specific programs, some of the contact
with investigators will happen
after you’re accepted. For those of you
applying to the broader SIP, that happens
almost immediately. And we appreciate
that that’s a long process. We are happy to answer
questions along the way. You can reach us at the email
address here on this slide. There are lots
of other resources here at the NIH website
that I want to remind you about. The first is the broader
NIH website, There are links to each of
the Institute websites. There’s information about the
science supported by the NIH, about extramural grants,
health information for you, your family, and your community. And our website,
which is, you’ll find
all the application resources. You’re here already,
so you have already found them. But there’s lots of other
archived videos, career information, and a variety of resources
for you to use. If you are interested in doing
a summer internship somewhere else, or you want to just be inclusive
and apply broadly — these are very competitive, and it’s a good idea
to apply to multiple programs — there’s a list of summer
programs outside the NIH that might be helpful for you. The honest truth
is you could just Google summer internships in STEM, and you’ll find
a variety of them. I stress the contact information
for the summer program, [email protected] Summer internships can be
an amazing experience, a chance to see
if what you thought you loved you really do love,
a chance for you to network and talk to people about careers
you hadn’t even thought about, a chance for you
to take book knowledge and turn it into
real hands-on experience. They are really
formative opportunities. And it’s really worth
putting a lot of effort into the application. Every year,
we get more applications than we have positions, and many, many
qualified applicants aren’t offered a spot here. And I wish there was something
that we could do about that, but the reality is that there are many talented
students out there. So, apply to multiple places. But also, reapply at NIH if you
don’t get in the first time. Many, many applicants
have to reapply. Many get in the first time
as well. And I want to stress that we
welcome first-time researchers as well as more seasoned
and more advanced students. This can be an amazing place to do a
Summer Internship Program from the networking
opportunities, to the workshops, to the hands-on research
experience, to being in Washington D.C., which is a really vibrant,
diverse place, or at one
of the other campuses, where there’s a special
sort of NIH flavor. This can just be an amazing way
to spend the summer. We hope that you apply, and we wish you the best
during the application process.

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