For summer and academic interns
Resources for summer internships and other short-term or part-time positions
On this page
- Identify research groups of interest
- Contact potential NIH mentors
- Considerations for choosing a research group
- Interview with potential NIH mentors
- Reach out to additional research group members
- Follow up with a thank you
- Assess and explore your options
- Communicate your decision and get ready to onboard
- What if I have unique personal concerns?
Identify research groups of interest
Watch this video about finding your research home
Define your research interests
There is no database where NIH PIs post open positions for SIP or AIP interns. However, many research groups have space and are excited to host you. The first step is to narrow your search by focusing on specific NIH campuses and by defining your research interests.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What science topics am I interested in learning more about? For ideas, browse this list of scientific focus areas at NIH.
- Are there techniques used in biomedical research that I want to explore? Visit the ‘Accelerating Science’ section of the NIH IRP site for help in this area.
- Which diseases interest me and motivate me to learn more about doing biomedical research?
You should identify three to five topics, techniques, and diseases that interest you. Use these topics to guide your search of two databases helpful in learning more about NIH research groups:
- The NIH Intramural Research website
- allows you to search for PIs by scientific focus area, research topic, institute, or name
- The NIH Intramural database
- allows you to more deeply explore current research projects relevant to your interests
- this database can be searched filtering by specific NIH campuses
Watch this video on finding NIH PIs
Make a list of potential mentors to contact
Your goal is to generate a list of potential NIH research mentors to contact and inquire about open positions. The list should include their name, contact information, IC, campus, and research area. Our recommendation is that you begin with a list of at least 20 PIs whose work interests you, but depending on your interests and specific goals, the list may be shorter or longer.
Contact potential NIH mentors
Once you've identified a potential NIH research mentor, we recommend that you learn more about their research and then contact them. To do this:
- Read materials on their website to get a sense of the work they are doing.
- If you are a more senior student with experience in research, read some recent publications; you can find these by searching PubMed or on their webpage.
- Send an e-mail to the PI of the research group that includes:
- a brief introduction, including a summary of your educational experiences
- a discussion of relevant work and research experiences (if any)
- a short explanation of why you are interested in their research
- a current resumé attached as a .pdf file
- If you are a SIP candidate, refer them to your completed on-line application
Make sure that each email is specific for the individual mentor and not a generic letter sent to multiple PIs. Some PIs will not respond to your email. We recommend that you follow-up again after two weeks. If they do not reply to this follow-up, assume that they are not interested.
Considerations for choosing a research group
Our recommendations can guide you to find a supportive research group where you can grow and learn, personally and professionally. If you keep these factors in mind during the interview, it will be easier to collect the information you need to make an informed decision. There are four things to consider:
1. The type of research being done in the group
- Does the work interest you?
- Are you excited about the research skills you will learn?
- Will there be opportunities to develop a broad skill set, including communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills?
2. The culture of the research group
- Is the group supportive of each other and welcoming of people with different experiences, backgrounds, and cultures?
- How do members of the group support each other in their work? Do they embrace collaboration, mostly work independently, or tend to compete?
- Are there social interactions between group members? If yes, are professional boundaries maintained and are the interactions beneficial to the group?
3. The management style of the PI
- How does the PI track progress of project and members of the group? Does the PI regularly meet with individuals and teams?
- Are there productive group meetings where the group addresses issues and debates research questions in healthy ways?
- How does the PI provide feedback to individuals and teams? How does the PI respond to feedback from others?
- Does the PI engage and support team members in having difficult conversations and resolving conflict?
- Are there others who serve as managers on behalf of the PI? How does the PI work with these individuals to provide oversight to the group?
4. The mentoring philosophy of the PI
- Does the PI provide the right balance of supervision and independence appropriate to your training level and background knowledge?
- Is the PI supportive of a diversity of career outcomes? Do people in the group get the same support regardless of their long-term career goals? Do you feel comfortable talking about your career goals with the PI?
- Does the PI meet regularly with trainees to discuss expectations, give feedback and solicit input?
Interview with potential NIH mentors
The interview helps you and the PI decide if the position is a good match for you. The interview also allows you to explore how joining the group will advance your training. Interviews may be in-person or virtual. In addition to talking with the PI, you may talk with members of the research team.
What to expect
Expectations during the interview will differ based on your educational level and whether this is your first research internship experience. You will be expected to broadly understand the goals of the group. Remember that interviews are bi-directional. You are being interviewed to assess your skillset, interest in the work being done, and compatibility with the group. At the same time, you are interviewing the PI and others in the group to assess whether the culture of the group and mentoring/management styles of the PI are a good fit for you.
Prepare for your interview
To prepare effectively, reflect on questions that you might be asked and questions that you want to ask.
What the PI, or senior member of the group, may ask you about
- Your educational and work experiences. They might asked what you did in a previous research group and what you learned from the experience
- It is OK to say that you do not have experience in specific areas.
- Do not exaggerate your skillset during the interview.
- Your professionalism and work ethic. For example, how you have managed going to school and working at the same time, how you deal with conflict on teams, your ability to learn on your own, and how you handle feedback and difficult conversations.
- Your immediate and long-term goals, including your plans for additional education or other internship experiences
What you should ask during the interview
- Who will I work with during the internship? Is there a specific person in the group that I will go to with day-to-day questions?
- What will my day-to-day experience be like? What will I do?
- What might I be working on here? What technologies, approaches, and model systems will I learn?
- Will I have a small project of my own or will I be helping someone with an on-going project?
- How often do you meet individually with your interns?
- Does your research group have regular group meetings?
- What qualities do you value most in an intern? How do you evaluate your interns?
- How many former interns have you mentored, and where did they go after leaving your research group
Reach out to additional research group members
We usually recommend that you talk with other members of the group before considering an offer. If you are only interning for ten weeks during the summer, this is not essential. However, if you plan to stay in the group for an extended period of time as part of the AIP, it is important to talk with other members of the group. Ask the person who interviewed you for the names and contact information of current staff and other trainees to talk with. Be sure to speak with anyone who will be directly supervising you, or collaborating with you, during the internship.
What you should ask members of the research group
- What are the PI's expectations of interns in the research group?
- What is a typical day like in this research group?
- How often do you meet your PI? what are the meetings like? If you do not meet regularly with the PI, who do you meet with?
- Do the PI and other mentors answer email or other communications from members of the group?
- How was your orientation and onboarding handled? Who helped you in the process?
- What happens when the PI gets frustrated?
- What happens when people in the group make mistakes? What happens when the PI makes mistakes?
- What do you enjoy about working in the research group? What don’t you enjoy?
- Does the PI and others respect the students and fellows in the group? Do they listen to them and offer constructive feedback?
- How does the PI deal with conflict between group members?
- How many hours per week do people typically work? Do people have flexibility in setting their schedules? Do people take vacations?
Keep in mind
Not everyone is comfortable openly discussing reservations about their PI/research mentors, so listen carefully to the words they use and pay attention to body language during these conversations.
Follow up with a thank you
After the interview, be sure to email the individuals you spoke with thanking them for their time. Be sure to ask any follow-up questions you have and ask the PI about next steps.
Assess and explore your options
Once the interview is over, the most important thing you can do is to pause and evaluate what you learned. Do not decide quickly, especially after only one interview. It is important to try and expand your options and compare your experiences with more than one group whenever possible. PIs should give you time to consider options and should not pressure you to immediately decide.
The more you can learn about a research environment and the PI's mentoring/management style, the better prepared you will be to make an informed decision. It is unlikely that any single mentor will meet all of your needs, so you will need to figure out which considerations are the most important for you in a research mentor and understand how your PI will support you in having an outstanding internship experience. Most summer or academic year intern, should be flexible about the research topic and focus on finding mentors who will provide substantial guidance and support, especially at the outset of your research training.
Communicate your decision and get ready to onboard
Once you have considered your options, let all of the PIs you interviewed with know that you made a decision and thank them for their time. Onboarding at the NIH involves multiple steps and several approval processes. Be sure to follow guidance and directions and respond to requests for information promptly. Carefully read all of the information we provide for trainees onboarding at NIH.
What if I have unique personal concerns?
Finding supportive research groups takes effort, but it can take more effort if you have concerns about how welcoming the group is about your specific needs. You may be a parent or caretaker, wish to explore reasonable accommodations, want to discuss health or mental health concerns, or want to understand how welcoming the group is of people across a dimension of difference critical for your comfort in the group.
At some point in the interview process, it is important to address your concerns but deciding what to share and when to share is a personal decision. Some people prefer to do this early in the interview process and others prefer to wait until later or after an offer is made. We are happy to help you with these considerations and how to have these important conversations. Finding a research group where you are comfortable and supported is critical, so please reach out to us at OITEfirstname.lastname@example.org if you need guidance or support.
Found a research group? Check out our resources to support you as you transition to NIH.
We are here to help if you have questions or concerns during the search, interview, decision, and appointment process. Reach out to us at email@example.com.
Develop a network of mentors
Advice on how to expand your mentor support system.
Build relationships with mentors
Suggestions for integrating into your group and working to develop a strong relationship with your PI and daily supervisor.
Plan for success
Develop a plan to use your time as an NIH trainee to grow and enhance your skills