Seeking Summer Astronomy Undergraduate Research Opportunities
Last updated 4/19/2016
Who: Undergraduate physics & astronomy majors at UR seeking summer research opportunities either at UR or elsewhere.
Send to your letter writers the following in mid/late January:
- 1st/2nd year: It is advantageous to take some programming
experience (e.g. at least one CSC class, preferably CSC 161: The
Art of Programming). Preferred languages: Python, C++ or C. Java
is not so helpful as it takes time away from learning a language
you might actually use for research. Ideally you'd get some
experience programming in a Unix environment (e.g. using the
terminal in Mac OS environment). Keep your grades up! The chances
of getting a good research opportunity increases with GPA. It may
be tough to get a research opportunity after 1st year if GPA is <
3.8. By 2nd year, it should be a bit easier to find a research
opportunity if your GPA is above ~3.5.
- Fall Semester of 1st/2nd/3rd year: Research websites
for summer undergrad research opportunities (some are listed
below). Consider who you'll request recommendation letters from
(usually you need 2). Roles of typical letter writers: prof you've
taken a course with and done very well, academic advisor (me in
many cases), supervisor at a current or previous technical job,
etc. Your boss at Burger Hut from 3 summers ago, a family member,
etc. are probably not the best choices.
- Early January: Ask your letter writers whether they can
write you a positive letter. Ideally, they respond with an
enthusiastic YES. Do NOT ask your letter writers at the last
minute for letters (common mistake) - they need time to write and
polish their letters (preferably >few weeks at minimum). You do
not want them sending last-minute rushed letters. Warning: Most
of your summer research deadlines are between 1 Feb and 1
- Mid/Late January: Decide on a final list of
opportunities you want to apply to. Send your letter writers the
following. Help them help you.
A starting list of potential summer research opportunities:
- Send a consise email (regular ascii text) list of the opportunities in chronological order. Do NOT send me a spreadsheet, Word document, PowerPoint, csv, etc. etc. Attachments can be easily ignored. Just a simple email! Send the list in the following example format:
Mon, Feb 1, U. Boston, email letter to firstname.lastname@example.org
Mon, Feb 15, U. Minnesota, they will send link to upload letter
- Send regular reminders until the letters are sent. Some letter writers are sending many dozens of letters, and can get dozens of emails per day, so sometimes it is easy to lose track. The frequency of reminders can increase as one gets close to the deadline! You think you're bugging us - nope, you are helping us help you.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):
- NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) programs for astronomy and physics. REUs participants must be "U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or permanent residents of the United States". Here is a short list of some of the REU sites that students often apply to (certainly not complete):
Arecibo (Puerto Rico),,
Northern Arizona U.,
Maria Mitchell Obs. (Nantucket),
Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO, in Chile) runs during spring semester, and so would require some creative scheduling/shuffling of your academic schedule. Note that sometimes the contact information on the web or even the existence of the program may be outdated; email the contact person, click on the sites, make sure they are running and that the contact information is correct! Most deadlines are 31 Jan through 1 Mar or so.
- NASA One-Stop Shopping Initiative (OSSI). Deadlines are rolling, but it sounds like 15 Mar is an absolute last deadline. It is probably a better idea to submit an application in Jan or Feb. Eligibility: U.S. Citizen (either by birth or naturalization); A Permanent Resident Alien (PRA) or Legal Resident are not considered U.S. citizens and are not eligible for NASA student opportunities available through OSSI. GPA needs to be above 3.0 out of 4.
- Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) hires undergraduate UR students during the summer (and sometimes during the semesters).
- Space Astronomy Summer Program at Space Telescope Science Institute (STSci). The program is open to students from the US and other countries, at all levels of undergraduate and graduate study, but with preference to the above categories.
- ASTRON/JIVE International Summer Student Programme at The Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) and the Joint Institute for VLBI ERIC (JIVE).
- LIGO SURF program: Eligibility: Be a continuing undergraduate student; Have a cumulative GPA of at least 2.5/4.0; Complete a full year of undergraduate education at your college or university, including at least one full year course in undergraduate physics; Not be under any disciplinary sanction.
- NRAO has not only an REU program for US Citizens, but runs the NRAO Undergraduate Summer Student Research Assistantship program, which accepts undergraduate students or graduating college seniors who are citizens, are from an accredited U.S. Undergraduate Program, or otherwise eligible to work in the United States.
- How many summer research opportunities should I apply for?: Students typically apply to between ~8 and ~15 programs. Higher grades and experience (e.g. especially programming languages, physics & astro courses, etc.) helps! Keep in mind that these programs may attract >200-300 applications each season.
- Can I take summer classes and participate in an REU program: NO. For the 10 weeks of a typical REU program, you are expected to work on the research full time (40 hrs/week). The research program should be your #1 focus during that interval. Take it seriously.