Promoting Geoscience Research, Education & Success

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

So you’re interested in undergraduate research opportunities? Fantastic!

  1. Many opportunities may be available at your home institution – definitely check out professors’ websites to see if anything piques your interest! if so, reach out!
  2. Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs sponsored by the National Science Foundation. These NSF-sponsored programs typically run for 8-10 weeks are for U.S. citizens at universities, all over the US, in nearly every scientific discipline.
  3. Summer research opportunities at universities and/or with research scientists are often posted on discipline specific listservs – you can either subscribe or go to the website & browse listings.
  4. Many federal laboratories and private-sector companies offer summer research opportunities as well.

The WHY & HOW behind applying to undergraduate research opportunities: 

Dr. Melissa Burt, director of an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) program at Colorado State University and a PROGRESS team member, led a webinar how to apply for REU programs. In this webinar we discussed the types of research opportunities available to students, what to expect during a summer research experience, and how to put together a strong and convincing application package. We shared information about a range of different programs across the country and had time to answer any questions.

Need help on your resume? Dr. Manda Adams (National Science Foundation) provides information about how to build your resume to best sell yourself & tailor it for each opportunity:

Additional Advice


REU participant slots can be highly desirable and sometimes extremely competitive; each hosting organization or school has only a limited number of available positions. These applications should be taken seriously. Jonathan Hodge at Grand Valley State University in Michigan has created a list of excellent tips for attaining an REU

  • Read and follow the directions.  The application form will ask for specific information from you. Make sure to provide exactly what is requested. If you have questions about any part of the application, contact the program director and ask for clarification.
  • Demonstrate specific knowledge and interest in the program to which you are applying. Don’t just say that you’re interested in doing an REU. Tell the reader exactly why you are interested in the specific REU to which you are applying. Do your research before you complete your application. Browse the program’s web site, and use this knowledge to highlight specific aspects of the program that are particularly appealing to you. Don’t use the same application essay for every program you apply to. Show the reader that you spent some time researching and applying specifically to their REU.
  • Carefully proofread your application. An application with spelling  or  grammatical  errors leaves a bad first impression. Read your application carefully before you submit it, and  ask someone else to give you some feedback as well. You want to submit an application that is well-­written, polished, and professional.
  • Choose good references. What your references write about you can make a big difference in distinguishing your application from others. Choose references who know you well and who will take the time to write a thorough and detailed letter of recommendation. It’s okay to ask a reference, “Do you think that you will be able to write a strong and detailed letter for me?” Make sure your references understand what is expected of them. Some REUs provide detailed instructions for references; if such instructions are  available,  make  sure  that  your  references have a copy of them. Also give your references a copy of your application essay and any other information that would help them to write a strong letter for you.
  • Say what makes you different from other applicants. Summer programs such as REUs are highly competitive. It is not unusual for a program with 8-10 participants to receive 100-200 applications. If you have unique experiences  that  set  you  apart  from  other  applicants,  make sure to mention these. What you write needs to convince the reader that you have unique traits and abilities that will contribute to your success in an REU. Of course, your academic preparation is important, but it is also important to demonstrate that you have the social and emotional maturity to function well in an intense research environment, working with people from all different backgrounds. Extracurricular and co-curricular activities often speak well to these  characteristics.
  • Be genuine. Don’t oversell yourself. Provide an honest account of your background and experiences, but don’t be boastful or arrogant. Don’t name-drop or use obscure mathematical terms to try to impress the readers.
  • Apply to multiple programs. It’s important to  remember  that  REUs  are  extremely competitive, and even the very best students do not get accepted by every program to which they apply. Do some research, and choose a variety of programs (perhaps 3-10) that suit your interests and abilities.

REU and Summer Research Opportunities

Below is a listing of typical REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) and summer programs that are regularly offered, but the actual offerings vary from year to year depending on NSF funding (COVID-19, etc.). Be sure to read each listing carefully for eligibility, application guidelines, & deadlines. Please note that the lists are not complete, but they can provide you a good place to start, you should also check out the National Science Foundation (NSF) REU website regularly for updates.

Federal Laboratories & Agencies: Many National Labs have undergraduate research programs. You can work during the summer or for a semester. Some examples:

REU participant Elaine Godfrey (center) and teammates at the top of the Greenland ice cap after successfully repairing a magnetometer

Geoscience unions and scientific journals are great sources for opportunities

and there are so many more!! check out some of these summer research programs:

This is really just the beginning! Find more opportunities with federal agencies at both and USA Jobs

Private Sector – To separate full-time positions from temporary research opportunities, be sure to search for student internships.

Kimmie Bowen checks on a field instrument as part of a research project at Penn State University

University Setting

Undergraduate research opportunities are often listed by universities and sometimes include links to opportunities beyond the university.  Here are a few examples:

You can also search by discipline:


Atmospheric or Climate Science




University of South Carolina has a great searchable database for opportunities all over the U.S. and abroad.

Opportunities for historically excluded & undervalued groups:

Aisha Morris at the UNAVCO booth with 2014 and 2015 RESESS interns during the GSA meeting in Baltimore. October 2015

Taking a break after reaching their field site, undergraduate researchers look out over a 20 year old burn scar