Entering Research

Why do research?

Research in the STEM fields involves the generation of new knowledge through the systematic application of scientific principles. Research involves first learning background information of a specific field, formulating a novel question that when addressed, would make an advancement in this field, performing literature review to make sure the question has not been previously addressed, and then designing experiments to address that question. The results and conclusions are usually written up as a manuscript, published in a journal and presented at scientific conferences. Scientific research can be incredibly exhilarating, especially if you make an exciting discovery, but Nature yields her secrets grudgingly. Be prepared for many days (weeks!) of frustration when experiments don’t work. It is those times when perseverance and good mentorship are amply needed.  If you decide to do research at Yale, you should expect to be involved in all these steps of scientific inquiry.

When can I start doing research?

Carrying out independent research as a full member of a faculty mentor’s research group is the single most important experience for undergraduates considering a research career. Yale’s numerous and diverse research opportunities provide the flexibility to permit each student to begin research at a time most appropriate for that student. Here are a few suggestions for each class. Remember, these are just MY suggestions, your experiences may vary.

Natalia Salinas ‘17 presenting at a STARS II symposium.

Freshmen: I encourage Yale undergrads to start doing independent research during the summer after Freshman year. Transitioning from high school to an academically rigorous institution such as Yale is difficult, and it is better to wait to do research (which is very time consuming) during the summer months, when you can devote a substantial portion of your time to your projects. Start researching labs and identify potential mentors during your freshman year, and apply to our STARS summer research program or to the Yale College Freshman Summer Research Fellowship in science and engineering. These fellowships serve as a portal for many undergraduates to begin funded research over their first summer at Yale. Starting research in the summer after Freshman year often give rise to rewarding, in-depth research experiences, especially if continued over sophomore and junior years.

Sophomores: Many students choose to begin their independent research as sophomores. For Sophomores who want to do research during the school year, you might be able to obtain funding from your research mentor, but most Sophomores work for free. The YCDO does not provide research support during the academic year.  My recommendation is to wait to do research over the summer, where you can apply for the Yale College Dean’s Research Fellowship and do research at Yale, or apply for a Tetelman Fellowship to do research abroad.

Juniors and Seniors: I recommend that you do research during the academic year for course credit, culminating in a research project suitable to satisfy the Senior Project/Thesis requirement for your major. Many STEM majors offer this option, and my students have done the intensive double-credit research option, where they spend 20 hours per week in the lab. Again, the Yale College Dean’s Research Fellowship is available the summer after Junior year. Juniors can also apply to the STARS II program, which offers a stipend to do research during the spring semester of the Junior academic year, Senior academic year, a stipend for research during the summer between Junior and Senior year.

However Yale undergraduates begin their research experience, they often excel in the laboratory and co-author papers in peer reviewed journals. These research experiences are often crucial to gain entry into top graduate and professional school programs after Yale. 

Should I do research in the academic year or over the summer?

Research can be conducted in the summer, academic year, or both. Academic year research is usually performed for course credit, often in association with the satisfaction of departmental major requirements. Summer research, which is often supported by a fellowship stipend, provides the opportunity for a more intensive research experience. Many students find summer a particularly rewarding time for research, and combining multiple summers and academic years for a sustained research experience often allows a student to get into a project in the depth required for a substantive and fruitful research experience. These efforts often result in authorships on published papers. Such an approach is highly recommended for students with potential interest in a research career, particularly those interested in pursuing a PhD or MD/PhD degrees.

Yale summer research opportunities in STEM fields

All Yale students interested in science and engineering are encouraged to engage in research for 8-10 weeks during the summer. The Yale College Office of Science & Quantitative Reasoning (QR) administers several fellowships to support students who elect to carry out research with a Yale faculty member (usually on the Yale campus) over the summer. Students should aim to have their summer research position lined up well before spring break, preferably by late January. By mid-February, many laboratories will have filled any spaces that may be available. Most importantly, you want to have sufficient time to develop and write an excellent fellowship proposal. Pay attention to the fellowship deadlines; many applications are due in February and March.

How do I get funding for summer research?

The selection process for summer fellowships is competitive, but Yale College has allocated support that should be sufficient to ensure that strong proposals from appropriately qualified students will have a high probability of success. Summer 2017 fellowship support for students doing research on campus was $430/week for an 8-10 week full-time research experience. These fellowships are designed to cover living expenses so that the recipients can dedicate their full attention to their research. Full time means students are not allowed to take any summer classes or hold down an additional job.

Whether you apply to one of the fellowships administered through our office or another, the selection process is competitive.  It is highly recommended that you apply to more than one funding source to increase your chances of receiving an award or multiple awards.

Can I do summer research at a University in my hometown?   Yes, but you will not be eligible to receive funding through one of the fellowships administered by our office.  Your non-Yale mentor or the host institution may be able to provide financial support or you can apply for fellowships that are not limited to Yale.  Some of these are listed on the Yale Student Grants &

Brenda Calderon ’17 studied how neutriphils migrate during inflammation.

Fellowships Database, but you should be aware that Yale funding for research elsewhere is limited.  Again, programs have deadlines in the December-February time frame, so start planning early.    

What are the supported areas of the Yale summer fellowships? All areas of the natural sciences, engineering, mathematics, and computer science are supported.  Some areas of study in Psychology or Cognitive Science may be appropriate. In general, behavioral studies on animals are eligible for support, but studies on humans are appropriate only if the primary focus is on the biology going on ‘inside the box,’ such as through MRI imaging studies. Students interested in pursuing other types of behavioral research or research in other social sciences may be eligible for support through the Yale College Dean’s Research Fellowship in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Yale College Fellowship for Research in Health Studies, or other grants listed in the Yale Student Grants & Fellowships Database. Consult Dean Chang if you are not sure.

What are the dates for participation in summer research? The dates of your participation are by agreement between you and your mentor.  Your start date may be any time after your last exam and your finish date may be any time before the beginning of classes for the fall term. 

What about taxes?  A fellowship stipend is considered reportable income for tax purposes and vary person to person.  Under the Tax Reform Act of 1986, most fellowship monies are considered taxable income. Certain fellowships are “qualified,” in which case specific portions of the funds awarded may be deductible. Fellowship recipients are advised to consult an accountant regarding the declaration of fellowship funds and to review carefully Chapter I of the IRS Publication 970 - Tax Benefits for Education.

Can I take a Summer Session course or take on a job while I am doing research?  Not if you are receiving ANY Yale summer fellowship support. All Yale summer research fellowships are intended to provide support for a full-time experience of 8-10 consecutive weeks, with no distractions or other commitments, including courses or jobs.

What about summer housing?  Yale summer fellowships (other than the STARS Summer Research Program) do not provide housing.  You must make your own living arrangements for the summer. Typically, groups of students have jointly taken summer sublets near campus. Yale Off-Campus Living  maintains a database of available short-term rentals, sublets, and shares in the New Haven area.

Where can I get help with the research proposal for the fellowship application?   Consult this link for information on how to write a good research proposal. 

What is expected of me in the way of a final report?  You are required to provide the Office of Science and QR with a two-page summary of your research at the end of the summer. 

Will I have an opportunity to present my research?  You should have the opportunity to present your research in front of your summer research mentor’s research group. In addition, you can participate in YURA, which offers avenues to undergrads to present their research findings. Finally, some students with approval from their summer research mentors will have the opportunity to present their research at a national conference.