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Potential internship hosts want to know about your personal history, the initiative with which you have followed your interests (in- and outside science) so far, and the depth and quality of your theoretical and practical training. Your CV should tell about these things. Especially, it should have a brief description of the contents of courses and your practical laboratory experience. Further information on writing a scientific CV is here.
The best way to writing an excellent CV is to use (but not to copy slavishly) those of senior students, and to have faculty look it over before you send it.

Letters of Reference

If you apply to an internship program, you will be asked to submit letters of recommendation at the time you send in your application form. They may ask that you put them into the same letter (in sealed envelopes), or that your referees write to the program separately.
If you apply to individual laboratories, you should not include letters of reference in your first letter. It is usually enough to enclose a sheet with the addresses of two or three referees. The principal investigator will contact them if she or he is interested, and ask for a reference.
It is essential that you talk to your prospective referees before sending their names to someone. Nobody likes to be called out of the blue.
There should be at least two referees, and they should know you, i.e. you should have interacted with them in an academic setting. Contact them about two weeks in advance of when you require the letters, and bring all your own application materials. This is so they can make their letters more personal and convincing, and raise specific points which emphasize your specific strengths. Also bring some information about all the programs or people you are applying to, and a list of each program and the respective deadline.
A website with information on letters of reference (meant for graduate school but everything applies for internships too):

Sending your application

Leave enough time for the application to reach its destination. Some programs operate absolute deadlines where, if even one element of your applications is missing by the deadline, you will not be considered. Calculate two weeks for the US (even by airmail) and one week for within Europe.
How many applications should you send?
Mass mailings are always identifiable as such, and they betray a careless attitude and make a bad impression. A successful application is tailored to the recipient. Thus, you will not be able to do very many. A good number is to have three to five applications active at all times until you receive your first offer. It is important to send your first round of applications at the same time since this way you will get some synchrony in the offers.

After you have sent your application - Following up

Send the letter and wait for two weeks after the date at which the recipient should have received the letter. Do not draw any conclusions if you hear nothing. Scientists are usually extremely busy people.
After two weeks, you should contact the recipient again. This time, it is appropriate to write a short e-mail stating that you have sent a letter with an internship / graduate position request, and asking whether it has been received. State that you are still interested, that you are looking forward to the recipient's answer, and that you will call them on the phone in a few days' time to ask in person. This second contact will usually bring about a response, either cautiously positive ("I could give you a position but...") or negative.
If you receive a positive or cautiously positive answer, ask what you need to do to secure the place (these will be different things for an internship and a graduate position). Carefully follow the instructions that you get.
If, at any stage of the process, you have to wait for an answer for more than two weeks, write another email and remind. It is seen as a good sign if you are constantly interested in the position.
If you are asked for an interview in person or on the phone - see the page on interviews.

When you receive an offer

and it appears excellent to you, take it up and do not think twice. If you are in doubt, and if your other applications have not resulted in offers yet, it is acceptable to ask for a week's time to think about it. During this time, you can wait for another offer. To prompt other offers, you can write to the other laboratories you have applied to, mention that you have received an offer from elsewhere, and ask when they can make a decision. This will usually precipitate either an offer, or a rejection.
If you have more than one offer:

  • When you are asked by one investigator whether you are applying to (or have been offered a position in) another one's lab you must be totally open, honest, and truthful. Science is a small field and the two people who you talk to may be personal friends, or collaborators.
  • As long as you do not have a definite offer it is totally acceptable that you go after other offers as well.
  • When you have received an offer, then you are free, within the time given to you to decide, to follow up on your other current applications. Again, you must be truthful about that to the person who made the offer to you.
  • If you have received two (or more) competing offers then you should make up your mind between them as soon as possible.
  • After having committed to take one position write to the other places that you have found something, and are no longer a candidate. Never go back on a commitment once you have made it - this will upset the investigator very much, and it may hurt you in the future in ways that you cannot anticipate.

Best wishes for your application process, and have a great internship!


This compilation © Sebastian Springer 2004-57. Please contact me with suggestions for improvements.