Saturday, March 28, 2009

Shouldn't Be This Difficult

New England is the Higher Education Capital of the World. I can't even count the number of colleges and universities within a 1 hour drive from my house. There are Ivies, Little Ivies, WannaBe Ivies, state universities and colleges, etc., etc. Lots of R1s around here. 

So why the FUCK is it so difficult to find a summer research opportunity? 

I spent most of my morning and early afternoon today trying to find internships, fellowships, etc that I could engage in during the summer in order to gain more research experience before heading off to grad school. 

The NIH gave me nothing. The NSF basically said "Fuck you and your psychology." A more general google search brought up lots and lots and lots of biomed internships, but diddly-shit for psychology. 

Now as far as I know, it would be fruitless to start emailing professors from the Us and Cs nearby, because they generally do not take RAs that do not attend the school. That leaves me with my former MRU, which I really, really want to avoid. I had a hard enough time getting an RA slot when I was a student there. 

There are also no graduate courses being offered this summer. I don't even have that option. 

I don't need to be paid. I don't need co-authorship. What I want is some hardcore methods and stats training so I can go into my grad program with a killer skillset under my belt. Because at this point, it's the R2 U or bust. If I can go in ahead of the game, I am more likely to graduate ahead of the game. 

So I'm asking for ideas and advice. I would love to do a research project of my own this summer - I may be able to do that at my former MRU, but I'm not sure. Unless I finish it and get it published or presented, there would be no official record whatsoever of what I accomplished because I am no longer enrolled there. I don't think I could do it on my own without an institutional affiliation. 

I would really prefer to work under a researcher from another college or university or get an internship/fellowship. But all of my searching so far has been fruitless. 

Any thoughts?


Professor in Training said...

Have you tried contacting the PIs at these schools to see if they have anything you could be involved in? Explain your situation and let them know how enthusiastic you are about whatever the fuck it is they each do.

Or alternatively, you could take the summer off and relax before grad school takes over your life. Are you going to visit the school to which you may/may not have been accepted?

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Now as far as I know, it would be fruitless to start emailing professors from the Us and Cs nearby, because they generally do not take RAs that do not attend the school.

This is not true. Sending targeted e-mails to professors whose research specifically interests you is a perfectly good idea, even if they do not have a summer research "job" posting up anywhere. This is how I populate my lab with post-graduate trainees prior to their attending grad school or med school. In fact, a very reasonable thing for you to do if you want to get accepted into a better graduate school is to spend an entire year as a post-graduate trainee.

JLK said...

I'll be visiting the school in a couple of weeks, and at that time I must convince at least 2 faculty members that I am sincerely interested in their research.

Honestly, PiT, if my husband wasn't gone I would totally take the summer to relax. But my job is such that I have the summer off from work, and I really need to fill my time with something productive or I will go insane. The past 3 summers were spent taking classes - there's no way I can relax this time around.

Do you think these PIs will think I'm insane if I'm contacting them as a non-student?

Anonymous said...

I agree with CPP. It is sometimes easier to get a full-time position with a PI rather than just summer work, and it will speak volumes to your commitment to research and graduate work if you have that experience.

I know it's tough going, hang in there, and good luck!

JLK said...

@CPP & Professor Anonymous - I can't do it. I can't give up another year of progress because I don't feel a particular PhD program is good enough. If I visit and decide that I hate it, then that will certainly be the most viable option. But a PhD is a PhD, and if they decide for sure that they want me and I don't find any other reason not to go, then I will take the R2 and run with it.

I could not possibly put myself through another round of grad school applications unless I had to. Not after the complete and utter fucking disappointment that came from this one. If I was still 21-23 years old, this would be a very different conversation.

Professor in Training said...

Do you think these PIs will think I'm insane if I'm contacting them as a non-student?

Absolutely not. Explain your situation - as PP said, it's not unusual for students to do a summer internship/RA/whatever in the time between undergrad and grad school. The worst they can say is no.

Mrs. CH said...

I think you could contact certain profs directly, and tell them that you're just looking for a project to work on this summer - if you're really serious about not needing to get paid, I'd offer that up! There are very few people that would pass that up (and they'd probably pay you anyway!).

I know you don't want to just sit around and do nothing all summer (understandable!). What about doing something else? Traveling? Taking cooking courses? Something that will take up a lot of time, but is more social than "research" orientated. After all, you'll be spending the next >4 years doing research - maybe do something fun that you've always wanted to do before diving right in :)

x-ine said...

I agree with everyone else - if being paid is not issue, then call/email/visit the profs you'd be interested in doing summer work for. Don't hesitate - just do it!

Psych Post Doc said...

I emailed you a potential resource.

If you really don't want to put grad school off for another year I totally get it but if you decide to wait another year and see if you get into a better program you really do have nothing but time.

I graduated from undergrad in 1998 (as a non-traditional student) and finished graduate school in 2007. Sure I was older than most of my grad student colleagues but who cares? I needed to go to a program that was a good fit for me doing research that I was excited about doing.

Grad school is hard enough, chances that you'll finish when you are unhappy with the fit or the research you are doing are slim to none.

Cognitive Psychologist said...

If it makes you feel better, I was rejected by NSF...twice.

Too bad you're not in Ohio and aren't a cognitive person, I could put you to work. I'm a delicate mix of PiT's The mired-in-dissertation-study grad student and The almost-completed grad student.

JLK said...

@PPD - The only thing right now that keeps me from thinking it's a good fit is my own snobbery at the fact that it isn't an R1. I'm holding out until after I visit to make any judgments about the fit. But you're absolutely right - if I don't think I could be happy there, another year off is better than dropping out.

@CogPsy - I would totally take you up on that offer. Are you sure I can't do anything for you from a distance? I have SPSS on my home computer.....

DrL said...

JLK I think it is best to contact PIs whose work you find interesting directly. I am from bio field, and from UK, and in my old department the profs were taking summer students. Some had studentships for them, some had them unpaid. But these opportunities were generally not advertised. The students had to contact the profs directly. To apply for funds the prof had to apply for a project for a particular student, so they had to have a candidate for such work contact them in advance. But there were also "volunteer" students, i.e. unpaid. Maybe you should try writing targeted emails as PP suggests.

About one year delay... I have a friend who really wanted to do psychology when he was in secondary school (this was in Poland). He did not get into the undergrad program for two years (there were 14 candidates per place at psychology department in our city). He got into the program at his third attempt. After two years he decided to go and study in UK, and he had to start from year one. This is already a four year delay as compared to everyone else. After the first two years in UK he could not get into specialisation in psychology, so he did a joint degree in philosophy with psychology. After that he did one year Master, and he had just been accepted into a PhD program.

I think if you really want something one year setback is not really a problem. You can use these setbacks to find new ways of approaching of what you really want. I keep my fingers crossed for you!

Comrade PhysioProf said...

I can't give up another year of progress because I don't feel a particular PhD program is good enough.

You are thinking about this the wrong way. Spending a year doing actual research--even if not in a PhD program--is not "giving up a year of progress". It is making progress on becoming a scientist. Grad school is *very* different from undergrad, and time spent in a research environment doing research will put you in a position to more easily--and perhaps even more rapidly--benefit from grad school and finish your PhD.

If I had spent one year as a post-graduate researcher before grad school, I probably would have finished grad school in two fewer years. Thus, I would have *saved* a year had I done so.

Professor in Training said...

Yup - I'm in 100% agreement with PP again. I worked in a commercial pathology lab for 3 years after my undergrad and then did 2 years of research to get my honors degree (similar to a masters) before starting my PhD and I was substantially better prepared than my grad school peers who came straight from undergrad. My productivity was higher, I had more bench/research skills, I knew what I was doing, where I wanted to go, how I was going to get there and made it happen. It still took the average 4 years to get my PhD but I won a bunch of awards along the way, made more professional contacts, published more papers in better journals before I finished and am further along in my career now than my grad school peers.

Academia and research are all about learning and developing - every little bit of experience you get will make you a better scientist at the end of the day. It's all progress towards your ultimate goal.

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