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Summer Internship Program FAQs

General Info


Application Procedure

After Applying

Other Training Opportunities

General Info

What is the purpose of this program?
The Summer Internship Program is designed to provide young people an opportunity to spend a summer working side-by-side with some of the most talented scientists in the world in an environment devoted exclusively to biomedical research.

Where are these training opportunities located?
These traineeships are available only in the intramural laboratories of the NIH. Most of the laboratories are located on the main NIH campus in Bethesda, MD. Several Institutes or their laboratories that focus on particular research areas are found at other sites around the country. These include facilities of:

  • The National Cancer Institute in Frederick, MD
  • The National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, MD
  • The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Detroit, MI
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse in Baltimore, MD
  • The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, NC
  • The Rocky Mountain Laboratories of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Hamilton, MT
  • The Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Phoenix, AZ
  • The Framingham Heart Study of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Framingham, MA

NOTE: Only a limited number of positions are available in Detroit, Phoenix, and Framingham.

Is this a paid internship?
Yes, students who are selected receive a monthly stipend that is based on education level and experience. Stipends are provided by the laboratory or Institute that offers an applicant a position. If a lab does not have the funds to cover the stipend, they may invite you to join the lab as an unpaid volunteer.

Is summer housing provided by the NIH?
The NIH is unable to provide housing for summer interns. We can, however, offer some suggestions that may help you in finding a place to live:

  • The Moving Guide prepared by the NIH Office of Intramural Training & Education provides housing suggestions along with information on virtually everything you will need to know about moving to Bethesda, Baltimore, or Frederick, MD.
  • The NIH Recreation & Welfare Association housing list External Link contains information on numerous rentals convenient to the main NIH campus in Bethesda.

It might help you to know as well that the NIH is on the Red Line of the D.C. Metro External Link at the Medical Center stop External Link. Getting around via Metro is generally a good choice.

Please note that the NIH is also unable to provide after-hours supervision for summer interns.

What are the start and end dates for the program?
Start and end dates are negotiated individually by the applicant and the NIH investigator who has selected him/her as an intern. Students selected for the program usually begin work between mid-May and the end of June. The minimum time commitment is eight weeks, 40 hours a week.

Can this award be used for research training outside of the NIH?
No, this award is intended to provide support for training in the intramural research program at the NIH. It cannot be used for any other purpose.

Is there a separate program for students currently enrolled in medical or dental school?
No. All individuals interested in coming to the NIH for the summer should apply to the Summer Internship Program. If you are enrolled in medical or dental school, please state that fact in your cover letter.

Are there separate summer internship programs for high school, college, and graduate students?
No, there is a single Summer Internship Program at the NIH. The applications from high school, college, and graduate students are stored in a single database. Each year about 30% of summer interns are in high school, 60% in college, and 10% in graduate, medical, or dental school.


Can I apply if I am not a citizen or permanent resident of the United States?
No. Only citizens and permanent residents of the U.S. are eligible to apply to this program.  NOTE: residents of US territories/commonwealths are also eligible to apply.  This includes citizens of Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Are there any eligibility criteria in addition to citizenship?
Yes, you must be sixteen years of age or older by June 15, 2017 to be an intern in summer 2017. If you are a U.S. citizen you must either be enrolled at least half-time in high school or an accredited college or university or plan to be enrolled in the fall.  If you are a permanent resident, in addition, your institution must be in the U.S.

Is the summer program limited to specific majors?
No. However, most summer positions are in research laboratories or research groups with a biomedical focus. You should have successfully completed courses in biology and chemistry.  That said, research at the NIH runs the gamut from behavioral and social science through computational biology and biophysics.

Is there a minimum GPA to participate in this program?
No. However, NIH investigators will clearly want to select applicants who appear likely to make the greatest research contributions to their laboratories.  Few program participants have a GPA below 3.0.

Are students who are U.S. citizens attending foreign institutions eligible to apply?
If you are a U.S. citizen attending a foreign institution, you are eligible to apply.  If you are a permanent resident, you must be attending a high school or an accredited institution of higher education in the U.S.

I will be graduating from college (or high school) in the spring. Am I eligible to participate in SIP?
Individuals are eligible to participate in the NIH Summer Internship Program if they are enrolled either the semester before or the semester after the summer.  Since acceptances may not be received by the deadline for SIP application, we consider application to college, graduate school, or professional school the same as being enrolled for the fall. NOTE: it may be that NIEHS differs on this point.  If you are interested in NIEHS, contact them directly.

Application procedure

Is there a deadline for submission of applications?
Yes, the application deadline is March 1 for all participating NIH Institutes and Centers. Note: Partial applications that are not completed by the March 1 deadline will not receive further consideration. The SIP application is available online from mid-November through March 1.

When should I apply?
We recommend that you apply as soon as possible after the application site becomes available, as acceptances are made on a rolling basis. In 2015 applicants who submitted their materials during the first 2 weeks were 3 times as likely to find a position as those who submitted during the 2 weeks just before the deadline.

Can I update my application from last year?
No. You will need to reapply and request new letters from your references.

Can you provide any advice on how to write a good application?
You might wish to read "Writing Successful Applications for Biomedical Research Training Programs: Advice from the NIH Office of Intramural Training & Education." [PDF, 119 KB]  You should also watch our video External Link on applying successfully.

Who should write my letters of recommendation?
You should select references who are able to explain why you would be a good addition to a research group. Anyone who could comment on your skills in the laboratory, creativity, problem solving abilities, motivation, ability to handle complex scientific literature and concepts, etc. would be a good choice. Recommendations from individuals with a science research background are likely to carry more weight than recommendations from those with less understanding of biomedical research. Recommendations from family members are never appropriate. Also, note that letters from "services" and letters assembled for medical/dental school applicants by the pre-professional offices of their colleges and universities will not be accepted. You may wish to provide your references some information on the program, your resume or c.v., and a description of what you hope to accomplish during the program, so that they can write a highly relevant letter.

Is there a deadline for receipt of my reference letters?
We ask references to submit their letters within two weeks of our request. All letters must be received by March 15.

What should I do if my references have not received a request for a letter of recommendation on my behalf?
The system-generated e-mail request for a letter of recommendation may have failed to reach your reference for any one of several reasons:

  • You may have provided an incorrect e-mail address.
  • The message may have been blocked from reaching your reference by a SPAM filter.
  • Our e-mail server or your reference's may have malfunctioned at the time the message was being sent.
  • The message was undeliverable due to other circumstances beyond our control (e.g., your reference's mailbox being full).

If your reference did not receive the original message, you should:

  • Check the e-mail address that you provided for your reference and correct it if necessary, then resend the request for a letter via the Modify Application tool. This tool will remain open until March 15, the deadline for receipt of letters of recommendation.
  • Ask your reference to check the folder to which his/her SPAM filter diverts suspicious messages. This folder might be called "Junk mail," "Bulk mail," or "SPAM."

If your reference still cannot find the message and you suspect there is a technical problem on our end, please contact us, and we will investigate.

To whom should my references mail their letters?
References do not mail letters.  When you have completed all your sections of the application, our system will automatically send an email request for a letter to each of your references.  The email contains login credentials and directions for submitting the letter online.

Who ensures that letters of reference are received?
You are responsible for making certain that we receive your letters of reference. You should check to make sure your references have received our e-mail requesting a letter. After two weeks you should log in to our system and check your application using the Modify Application tool to make certain that the letters have arrived. If not, you can either resend the request or contact your reference directly to encourage her/him to submit the letter. IMPORTANT NOTE: remember that some SIP subprograms have deadlines for receipt of reference letters that are earlier than the general SIP deadline.  It is your responsibility to inform your references.

Can I submit more than the required two letters of reference?
No, the online application system will accept only two reference letters.

Can I change my reference(s) after I have submitted my application?
You can change a reference IF the original reference has not yet submitted a letter on your behalf.  After a letter has been submitted, you cannot make such a change.  If you replace an existing reference, please notify that individual that you will no longer require his/her assistance.

If I change a reference, will my original reference be notified?
It is your responsibility to let your original reference know that his/her assistance will no longer be required.

Do you have any advice on writing my resume/CV?
Here is a summary of our advice on resumes/CVs.

To whom should I address my cover letter?
Since your cover letter can be read by any investigator in the NIH intramural program, you may wish to use the salutation "Dear Sir/Madam:" or "To Whom It May Concern:".  We know that these are not satisfying alternatives.

I am a high school student. What should I enter for "Total Credit Hours" and "Major"?
Please enter "0" (zero) and "NA" (not applicable), respectively.

Should I list all the courses and grades that I have completed or only my science courses?
Please list all of your completed courses with grades, as well as the courses that you plan to complete by the end of the academic year.  Be certain to include an informative course title rather than just providing the course number.

Should I apply to a specific Institute or Center?
You may select ONE IC from the "Preferred IC" drop-down list.  Specifying the IC in which you would like to work makes sense in some circumstances, for example, if you are returning to a lab for a second or third summer or if you are an advanced or focused student seeking to add specific expertise to your resume.  If you are not in either of these situations, picking an IC may limit your options.  In any case, it would behoove you to search the IC Web site and the NIH Annual Reports to make certain that the kind of research you would like to do is actually happening in the IC you plan to select.  Note that you can also use your cover letter to define your interests.  Citing multiple specific interests will make your application pop up more often when investigators do keyword searches.

If I do not have access to the Internet, how can I apply?
Visit your local library to access the Web.

How will I know if my application is complete?
You may, if you choose, submit a partial application initially and complete the application at a later time. Note, however, that NIH investigators have access to complete applications only. If you submit a partial application, you will receive an e-mail message containing instructions for completing the application. Once you have done so, you will receive an e-mail confirming that your application is complete. This message will contain instructions for checking to see whether your letters of reference have been received. NOTE: You must complete your application by March 1 (11:59 p.m., EST). Applications that are incomplete after the March 1 deadline will not receive further consideration.

After applying

After I apply, can I make changes to my application?
Yes. Prior to the March 1 application deadline, whether you have submitted a partial or a complete application, you can use the login credentials sent to you in your confirmation e-mail to make any changes/updates you wish. IF you have submitted a COMPLETE application by March 1, you can continue to refine your application until the deadline for receipt of reference letters (11:59 pm, March 15). After March 15, you will no longer be able to edit your application.

How are applications reviewed?
Investigators in the NIH intramural program have access to the database containing the electronic applications to this program. They can search for applicants with particular interests or specific GPAs or who are enrolled at selected universities. Each investigator decides to whom he/she will offer summer positions. Investigators (or their Institutes) also provide the stipends for summer interns. The OITE is not involved in the selection process, nor does it provide funding for the program.

How will I be notified if I am selected?
The investigator who has selected you or an administrative officer in his/her Institute or Center will contact you by phone, e-mail, or letter.

How soon can I expect to hear that I am selected?
There is no definite answer to this question. You will be selected only if/when an investigator who has a position available visits the database and is impressed with your credentials. On or about May 15, those who have not been selected will be informed via e-mail. Remember, there is no central selection committee for this program.

What are my chances of receiving a position in the Summer Internship Program?
Like many of the research training programs at the NIH, the Summer Internship Program is highly competitive. Over the past several years, less than 20% of applicants were selected for the program.  In 2016 we received more than 7100 completed applications; about 1300 applicants were offered positions.

How can I improve my chances of being selected for the Summer Internship Program?
After you submit your application you should contact investigators with whom you would like to work.  This does not mean that you should send a general e-mail to fifty investigators.  Such an e-mail is likely to be ignored.  Instead, identify four or five investigators whose work interests you.  Learn enough about what they are working on so that you can write focused specific e-mails describing why you would like to work with them.

Is there a list of investigators who are taking students for the summer?
The NIH does not keep a list of investigators who are planning to have summer interns.  You can, however, go to the 2016 Summer Poster Day Program to find out which investigators (Preceptors) had interns in summer 2016. IMPORTANT NOTE: some preceptors are postdocs and advanced graduate students rather than investigators.  You will not find entries for postdocs or graduate students in the NIH Annual Reports.

How can I get information about specific NIH investigators whom I might contact about the research that they are conducting?
You can find information regarding NIH intramural research programs in two places. You can visit the NIH Annual Reports and conduct text searches on the subjects that interest you.  Alternatively, the Intramural Research Program Web page presents  investigators sorted by research topic.  Once you identify investigators whose projects interest you, you can e-mail them to refer them to your SIP application. You can find contact information for NIH investigators in the NIH Enterprise Directory. You can find a YouTube video entitled "Finding an NIH Mentor", which demonstrates how to use these resources, on the OITE YouTube page.

What if several PIs offer me positions? Do I have to accept the first position offered?
Your job is to determine which of the possible placements would be best for you. You are not obligated to accept the first position offered.

How will I decide which offer to accept? 
You should determine which research group would be best suited for you. You will want to have a phone or in-person interview with the investigator who is considering you and to get all the information you can so that you make a good decision.

Begin by reading our guidelines for selecting a mentor: You may also want to watch our brief YouTube video on this topic. Basically, we propose a multi-pronged approach that involves figuring out what sort of mentoring will be most likely to help you succeed, deciding what questions to ask potential mentors and their current trainees, and considering factors that may help you make a good decision.

Do I need to submit an official transcript even though I entered my grades into the electronic application system?
Only those who are accepted into the program need to submit an official transcript. In the event that you are accepted into the program, you will be informed where to send this documentation. Otherwise, it is not necessary for you to send a transcript.

Other training opportunities

Are there other research training opportunities at the NIH that I might find of interest?
If you are a recent college graduate, you may be eligible for the Postbaccalaureate IRTA program.

Where else might I find information on research opportunities?
You can find this information on our Other Summer Programs at the NIH and Summer Programs Outside the NIH pages.  Please check these for opportunities that might suit your interests.