Apply for summer research experience at NIH

The best way to find out if you want to be a scientist is to do some research

You can’t find out if you really like science until you try it for yourself.


You love science classes. You love science labs and the activities you do in them. But the only way to know if you really want to pursue science as a career is to try it out. One way to do that is to work in a lab at a nearby college or university.

But there are other large organizations where you can get experience as well. One of them is the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, whose headquarters is in Bethesda, Md., near Washington, D.C. Every year, NIH accepts applications for its summer internship program. It is a paid opportunity to spend the summer finding out if research is what you want to do. You get to meet other high school students interested in research, and at the end of the internship you get to present the results of your work to the public.

The NIH is funded by the government, so it’s not a part of a college or university. It has more than 1,000 laboratories in Bethesda and elsewhere where scientists study everything related to human health, from the brain to the heart, skin and more.

The summer program is open to United States citizens and permanent residents who are 16 or older, provided you are enrolled at least part-time in a high school recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. You can also apply to the program if you’ve just been accepted to college. 

While the internships are paid, the NIH will not provide a place for students to live. Most of the NIH laboratories are located in Bethesda, Md., but there are some others in Frederick Md.; Research Triangle Park in North Carolina; Hamilton, Mont.; Framingham, Mass.; and Detroit. If you are interested in applying, keep in mind that you may have to find some place to stay for the summer if you don’t live nearby. The website also notes that it’s important to prepare and submit your application early.

The summer program has a video and written instructions to help you write the best application you can. After you apply, the program advises you to search the NIH website to find scientists you think are doing interesting work. Contact them and let them know why you are interested in their laboratory.

NIH gets many very good applications every year, so you want to make sure your application is in the best possible shape. You may want a parent or teacher to look over your application to make sure that you haven’t missed anything.

Applications are open now, and will be accepted until March 1, 2015.

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Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.