Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU)



By Alayna Johnson, 2018-2019 SCS Student Advising Leader:

Research Experiences for Undergraduates, or REUs for short, are becoming more and more popular. In short, host universities across the country invite talented undergraduate students to conduct research on their campus for 8-10 weeks over the summer under the guidance of a professor or graduate student. I’ve participated in three REU programs and I’m excited to share why I think they’re the best way to gain summer research experience:

  • Research sites are offered at a variety of locations, including prestigious research universities and smaller liberal arts colleges. Similarly, the range of topics is immense and encompasses biological sciences, chemistry, materials research, physics, and much more. Thus, REUs are a great opportunity to learn about different areas of research and become familiar with different universities across the country. This will help you immensely when choosing a graduate school.
  • At an REU, you’ll connect with other passionate students and top research faculty. If you’re an outstanding participant, the professor you work for can even write you a letter of recommendation down the road.
  • Programs include enrichment activities such as seminars, field trips, GRE preparation, and student symposia.
  • All REUs are funded by the National Science Foundation and usually cover housing, meals, and travel for the student as well as provide a generous stipend.

            Once you decide you’d like to try an REU, the application process is very similar to that for graduate school. For example, you’ll need to prepare transcripts, a personal statement, a research statement, and identify between 1 and 3 professors to write you letters of recommendation. REU admission is relatively competitive: the Council on Undergraduate Research estimate that admission to these programs is between 5% and 8% because the number of available spots is very small. This may sound scary, but I’m here to share my top tips for a great application:

  1. You want to convince the admissions committee that you and the program are a good fit for each other. This means your essays should clearly answer the questions: Why are you interested in this specific program? What will you bring to the program? How have your prior experiences prepared you for success in this program? And yes, you’ll need to write individual essays for each program: no one wants to see a cookie-cutter essay!
  2. As with any application, don’t procrastinate! Half-hearted essays and late transcripts won’t cut it. Instead, devote time to work on your applications every week and contact your recommenders early. Since most REU application deadlines are in early February, winter break is a great time to prepare your materials and write your essays.
  3. Most program websites will list faculty members and their specific projects. Carefully read this list, identify the professor you’d be most interested in working with and list them (by name) in your essay! This shows that you’ve researched the program and that you have a vested interest in a specific project.

In addition to my advice, the School of Chemical Sciences Career Service Center is a great resource for getting your questions about REUs answered and for putting together an outstanding application. For more information or to find an REU site, visit the NSF REU website. The SCS Advising Office also posts announcements of REU experiences that are forwarded to us by indivual REU sites.