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Tips for Finding Volunteer Internships

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Stanford has many formal research internship programs (see Programs pages).  Occasionally a faculty member or lab will a host high school or community college student for a research internship, primarily during the summer. Below are some tips for finding an internship.  First, it is vital that the student takes the initiative to find an internship, not the parents. Second, if you are accepted to intern in a Stanford lab, both you and the Principal Investigator (the Stanford faculty member) must complete a number of action items (checklists for hosting interns can be found under Resources). 

1.     The first step is to peruse Stanford’s website and look for some faculty/labs doing research of interest to you (see note below). Go to and use the search feature in the top right corner. Within the website, you can search generic words such as “plant biology” or more specific topics. Most professors and labs have their own websites that will provide information about the various research projects taking place. You can also gauge the size of the lab by looking to see how many graduate students and post-doctoral fellows work in that lab. Typically, the larger the lab, the more bandwidth a professor might have to host an intern.

2.     Compile a list of 6-8 faculty members/labs you’re interested in and note the email address of the professor in charge. If you can’t easily find the professor’s email address on his/her lab page, you can often find it in the Stanford Directory.  Phone calls to professors are not recommended and will probably be ignored.

3.     Next, craft a short but compelling message, addressing it to Professor [LAST NAME]. Your message should:

o  State the type of project you’re looking for (What subject area? What are some possible research questions you’re interested in?).

o  Describe how a research experience aligns with your current course of study and future aspirations.

o  Briefly describe your availability to intern (i.e., approximate start and end dates).

o  State the time period you’re interested in (summer only, part-time during semester or school year, etc.). Many labs/PIs will accept only summer interns unless you are a local high school student enrolled in a research course at your home school.

4.     Generally speaking, most labs will not consider an intern for fewer than 6 hours/week or for a period shorter than one quarter or semester. That’s simply not enough time for an intern to learn much or be able to contribute significantly to the project.

5.     Attach a one-page Curriculum Vitae (similar to a resume) showing contact information, courses completed (with letter grades), overall GPA, any other internships, work experience, summer programs you’ve participated in, hobbies, skills, etc.

6.     Professors are very busy and they receive a lot of email. It is not uncommon for them to ignore this type of request. But if you send a message to 6-8 professors, you have a good chance that one of them will reply.  You may also want to send the email to graduate students in their lab, whose names may be listed on the professor’s lab website.  If you don’t hear anything after 2-3 weeks, it’s okay to re-send your message once. But after that, if you don’t get a response, move on to other researchers, go back to the first step, and repeat. Persistence is key!