Finding an Opportunity Outside of Penn State

In addition to the opportunities available at Penn State, you can also participate in research and creative activity off campus. There are opportunities to explore any area of interest all over the world at other universities, national labs and government agencies, private research centers, and more.

Most undergraduates who pursue off-campus research do so over the summer or when they are not also enrolled in coursework. These opportunities are sometimes referred to as ‘research experiences for undergraduates’ or REUs for short.

REUs are often funded and include housing, with also even covering related travel expenses. Because these experiences take place during the summer, you are typically expected to dedicate 40 hours per week on a project, allowing you to experience what it is like to conduct research as a full-time job. REUs also are an excellent opportunity for you to expand your knowledge and training to a new area of interest, as well as your horizons and connections beyond Penn State. Participation in an REU could yield your first presentation or publication, a strong letter of recommendation, or clarity in your career goals.

The first question to consider when searching for an off-campus experience is what you are seeking to gain. Are you new to research and hoping to learn the basics so you can land a research position when you return to campus? Are you looking to strengthen your application for graduate or professional school by exploring a new research area or learning a new technique? Maybe you want a job with the federal government after graduation and would like to explore your options before having to commit.

Depending on your goals, certain opportunities will be a better fit. Below are several opportunities that students from Penn State regularly participate in.

There are many summer programs beyond the ones listed above. In order to find a program that matches your interests, we recommend performing a search that contains your area of interest and relevant key words. For example, if you are interested in history, you might search “history summer research for undergraduates” or “history summer research program”. Professional societies that maintain job postings can also be a good starting point.

Each opportunity has its own eligibility requirements and application timeline. We recommend you begin your search at the start of the school year prior to the summer in which you want to participate in off-campus research. For example, the deadlines for the various National Science Foundation REU programs range from November – March prior to the summer of the program, whereas DAAD RISE has only one deadline and it is in the middle of December. For these opportunities, you would want to begin your search early in the fall semester so that you can prepare your application in time.

We have spent a lot of time discussing ways to find the right opportunity, but it is possible that your research interests change, you want to take a semester off from research to try something new, or you want a different type of experience than what you had previously thought. It is okay to want to switch research projects, groups, or mentors. In fact, it is perfectly normal.

If you find yourself in this situation, we encourage you to talk with your mentor and share what you are thinking. If it is that you are not getting the support you need or that the experience is not what you had originally envisioned, it is important that they know this information.

If you do decide to change research groups or mentors, plan to carry out the rest of the semester and complete your portion of the project as originally planned. You will want to give them enough notice that you will not be returning that they can look for new undergraduate support. If you leave on good terms, they might not only help you locate a new project or mentor, but also still be happy to write you a letter of recommendation.

The thought of sitting down and talking with a mentor can be overwhelming. Remember our office is here to help. Email us or schedule an appointment if you would like to talk with an advisor.