The NIH Summer Internship Program

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Multiracial university students

The NIH Summer Internship Program

The Summer Internship Program at NIEHS is part of the National Institutes of Health Summer Internship Program in Biomedical Research (NIH SIP). Situated in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, NIEHS emphasizes the commitment of its scientists to imparting the intensity, excitement, sense of discipline, and immense satisfaction that careers in science can offer to those who pursue them.

This program extends internships to exceptional undergraduate and graduate students interested in pursuing careers in the biomedical/biological sciences. Participants engage in research projects that expose them to the latest biochemical, molecular, and analytical techniques within their chosen field.

The research mentoring experience is enriched by a series of seminars and workshops featuring some of the institute’s prominent researchers and staff. These sessions provide participants with a comprehensive overview of environmental health sciences.

A poster session concludes the summer program, usually held in the last week of July. During this session, participants showcase the results of their research efforts and address questions akin to participating in a national scientific meeting.

What is NIH?

Established in 1887, the National Institutes of Health stands as a pillar in the global scientific community. Its overarching mission, to improve health and save lives, positions it as an epicenter for transformative research with a far-reaching impact.

The multidisciplinary approach to healthcare challenges distinguishes the NIH from other scientific research organizations. Complex medical conditions are systematically broken down into manageable research questions, leading to laboratories investigating diverse areas such as cancer genetics and social determinants of health.

In every instance, the NIH deploys extensive resources, encompassing funding, cutting-edge technologies, and a broad network of professionals, to address issues proactively.

Student taking a medical course

Globally recognized for its commitment to scientific integrity and innovation, the NIH upholds the highest ethical and scientific standards through rigorous peer-review processes. This commitment extends to its educational initiatives, including the NIH Summer Internship Program.

With this broader understanding of the NIH’s mission, consider the Summer Internship Program and explore why it should be a part of your educational journey. The experience is poised to reshape your perspective on healthcare and research.

Program Overview

The NIH Summer Internship Program spans a diverse array of scientific disciplines, offering a comprehensive exploration of cutting-edge research. Encompassed within the program are fields such as:

  1. Bioinformatics: Bioinformatics involves the application of computational techniques to analyze biological data. Interns in this field may work on projects related to genomics, proteomics, and data-driven biology.
  2. Biophysics: Biophysics explores the physical principles underlying biological processes. Interns may delve into understanding the structure and function of biomolecules, employing techniques such as spectroscopy and imaging.
  3. Cancer Biology: Interns in cancer biology contribute to studying the mechanisms of cancer development exploring potential therapeutic targets and diagnostic approaches. This field is crucial for advancing our understanding of cancer and developing effective treatments.
  4. Clinical Research: Clinical research investigates human health and disease in a real world. Interns may be involved in designing and conducting clinical trials, analyzing patient data, and translating research findings into medical practice.
  5. Computer Modeling: Computer modeling involves the creation of simulations to understand complex biological processes. Interns may use computational tools to model biological systems, helping to predict outcomes and understand underlying mechanisms.
  6. DNA Repair: DNA repair research aims to understand how cells maintain the integrity of their genetic material. Interns may contribute to projects exploring DNA repair mechanisms and implications for diseases such as cancer.
  7. Epidemiology: Epidemiology involves the study of patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease in populations. Interns may work on projects analyzing epidemiological data to identify trends, risk factors, and potential interventions.
  8. Gene Regulation: Gene regulation research focuses on understanding how genes are turned on or off. Interns may investigate the molecular mechanisms controlling gene expression, with implications for various biological processes and diseases.
  9. Genetics: Genetics explores the inheritance and variation of genes. Interns may contribute to projects investigating genetic factors underlying diseases, traits, and population diversity.
  10. Molecular Toxicology: Molecular toxicology examines the effects of chemicals and toxins on biological systems at the molecular level. Interns may be involved in studying the mechanisms of toxicity and potential interventions.
  11. Neuroscience: Neuroscience research explores the structure and function of the nervous system. Interns may contribute to projects related to brain function, neurological disorders, and potential therapeutic interventions.
  12. Pharmacology: Pharmacology involves the study of how drugs interact with biological systems. Interns may contribute to research on drug development, mechanisms of action, and potential side effects.
  13. Pulmonary Biology: Pulmonary biology focuses on the respiratory system. Interns may work on projects related to lung development, respiratory diseases, and therapeutic approaches for respiratory conditions.
  14. Reproductive and Developmental Biology: Reproductive and developmental biology explores the processes of reproduction and embryonic development. Interns may contribute to fertility, pregnancy, and developmental disorders projects.
  15. Risk Assessment: Risk assessment involves the evaluation of potential risks associated with environmental exposures. Interns may work on projects assessing the impact of various factors on health outcomes and proposing risk mitigation strategies.
  16. Signal Transduction: Signal transduction research investigates how cells communicate and respond to external signals. Interns may be involved in projects exploring signaling pathways and their implications for health and disease.
  17. Statistics: Statistics plays a crucial role in data analysis and interpretation in biomedical research. Interns focusing on statistics may contribute to projects involving study design, data modeling, and statistical analysis.

Participants in the program are expected to commit to a minimum of 8 continuous weeks of full-time work, ideally scheduled between May and September.

While flexibility is acknowledged, it is preferred that interns align their schedules to encompass the months of June and July, with a particular emphasis on participating in the concluding week of July.

a nursing student wearing her uniform smiling to the cmaera

This preference is rooted in the opportunity to engage in the program’s culminating event, the poster session, where interns showcase the results of their research endeavors. This aspect promotes knowledge dissemination and allows participants to contribute to the scientific community, mirroring the dynamics of a national scientific meeting.

Who Can Apply?

The Summer Internship Program (SIP) at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) presents an opportunity for a summer spent working at NIEHS alongside some of the leading scientists globally within an environment dedicated solely to environmental health research.

Exceptional undergraduate students interested in pursuing education and careers in the biomedical or biological sciences are awarded summer internships at NIEHS.

Interns will engage in a research project exposing them to the latest biochemical, molecular, and analytical techniques, all while exploring issues in environmental health.

NIEHS is dedicated to fostering a diverse environmental health science workforce. Encouragement is extended to students with disabilities, students from racial and ethnic groups identified by the NSF as underrepresented in health-related sciences nationally (Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, American Indians or Native Americans, and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders), students identifying as LGBTQ, Pell-grant eligible students, and those disadvantaged by circumstances negatively impacting their educational opportunities, including recent natural disasters.

NIEHS maintains a Smoke-Free Environment, and smoking is prohibited in all NIEHS buildings.

Program Requirements

Individuals seeking an internship must meet the following criteria:

  • Be 18 years of age or older by June 15 of the year they are applying for an internship.
  • Be enrolled in college (including community college) or graduate/professional school at the time of application, OR
  • Be high school graduates at the time of application and have been accepted into accredited college or university programs, AND
  • Be U.S. citizens or permanent residents (U.S. citizens may apply if they are enrolled at least half-time in an accredited college or university as undergraduate, graduate, or professional students. Permanent residents must be enrolled in or, if they have already graduated from high school, have been accepted into an accredited institution of higher education in the U.S.).

Requirements for Students

To apply for the NIH Summer Internship Program in Biomedical Research (SIP), complete the online application available annually in mid-November. Provide information for the following:

Young Asian student at school

  • A brief cover letter detailing your name, mailing address, phone number, current school, and grade or classification in school. Describe your academic plans for the fall, express your interest in the biomedical sciences, and state reasons for seeking a summer research position.
  • Graduating seniors must furnish proof of acceptance for the upcoming fall semester in a higher-level academic program. “Terminal” bachelor’s or master’s degree students are ineligible for this program. Indicate your interest in the NIEHS Summer Internship Program to ensure proper consideration by mentors. Please do so to ensure your application receives appropriate care. Spell check and review all information meticulously for accuracy (seek input from a friend or mentor).
  • A resume incorporating research activities, honors, awards, and other pertinent accomplishments.
  • A list of current coursework grades from your attending school (an official transcript is only required if/when selected/offered a position).
  • Two recommendation letters, preferably from individuals with direct knowledge of your scientific interests and abilities (e.g., science and mathematics faculty). Approach your reference letter writers early, ensuring their contact information is accurately listed in your application. An auto-generated email requesting your recommendation letter will be sent with specific instructions for electronic submission (both reference letters should be submitted by February 16, 2024, receipt date).

Express enthusiasm in your cover letter, highlighting any honors/awards, high GPAs, or other relevant background information. Provide comprehensive details to enhance your application and convey your interest in science.

Submit/post the above materials online by February 16, 2024, for consideration for the following summer. Applications may be updated or revised until February 16 during the year’s application process. If you have previously applied, complete a new application and provide new reference letters each year.

Housing & Transportation

Housing and transportation are not provided by NIEHS. For the Summer Internship Program, the intern and/or the parent(s)/guardian(s) are responsible for arranging housing independently. Assistance or advice regarding housing is not available through NIEHS.

Consider using websites like those listed below to explore housing options. The campus is conveniently located near various colleges and universities, and many students have previously secured housing or summer sublet opportunities on or near these campuses.

  • Duke Sublets
  • Housing Near Duke University
  • Meredith College Summer School Housing
  • NC State Sublets
  • NC State Summer Intern Housing
  • Shaw University Summer Housing
  • UNC Sublets

Note that NIEHS neither endorses nor promotes any of these sites or the housing found through them. This information is shared for reference purposes only and is not intended to be exhaustive.

Regarding transportation, the Triangle area is extensive, suburban, and predominantly reliant on cars. You may have access to the GoTriangle bus system depending on your location. NIEHS is served by RTP Connect, which subsidizes up to $10 per Lyft trip from the Regional Transit Center in RTP to NIEHS during specific times of the day.

On-campus parking is free, and you will receive a parking pass on your first day at the institute.

Stipend for Interns

The salary or stipend for students, teachers, and faculty is competitive and will align with individual education and experience levels. Health insurance proof is mandatory, although the institute does not provide insurance.

Students answering an exam.

Two hiring mechanisms may be utilized for the annual Summers’ temporary appointments:

  • “Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA)”: This involves a monthly stipend paid in arrears.
  • “General Schedule (GS)” appointment: This is compensated through an hourly rate paid every two weeks.

The Student IRTA Stipend Levels for All Localities, effective May 1, 2023, are as follows:

Undergraduate After 1 year $3,010
After 2 years $3,150
After 3 years or > $3,310
Graduate Less than 1 year $3,480
After 1 year $3,660
After 2 years $3,910
After 3 years or > $4,190


Why Consider an NIH Summer Internship?

Career Benefits

Imagine walking into a world-class laboratory every day, where your contributions directly impact ongoing research. The NIH Summer Internship Program allows you to do just that. Your role won’t be confined to menial tasks or endless paperwork; you’ll engage in meaningful research that could very well change the course of medical science.

What’s more, the program doesn’t just offer research opportunities; it offers the chance to work under the mentorship of scientists who are leaders in their respective fields.

The skillset you develop here isn’t just theoretical. You’ll learn to operate cutting-edge laboratory equipment, analyze complex datasets, and perhaps even contribute to scientific papers. The hands-on experience provides a competitive edge whether you intend to venture into academia, pharmaceuticals, healthcare management, or any other science-oriented profession. Essentially, you’re not just boosting your resume but laying a robust foundation for your future career.

Educational Advantages

Education isn’t confined to textbooks, especially in a dynamic field like healthcare. The NIH Summer Internship Program complements your academic learning with various educational advantages to enhance your learning experience. You’ll attend seminars led by experts who discuss groundbreaking findings or innovative methodologies, providing a deeper understanding of your field of interest.

But the learning doesn’t stop there. Hands-on workshops teach you advanced laboratory techniques, from gene sequencing to data visualization, which are skills that will serve you well in your future educational endeavors. These aren’t just cursory overviews; you’ll understand each method’s underlying principles and applications comprehensively.

Networking Opportunities

Networking is often touted as a buzzword, but in scientific research, it’s a lifeline. The NIH Summer Internship Program offers an unparalleled networking environment. You’ll be rubbing shoulders with people as passionate about science as you are, from fellow interns to seasoned scientists.

Attend events, ask questions during seminars, and take the initiative to introduce yourself to professionals in your area of interest. You always need to find out which connection might open doors for your future research or career.

The networking benefits extend beyond the program’s duration. Many interns continue to collaborate with their mentors on research projects, co-author scientific papers, or receive valuable recommendations for graduate school or job applications.

In short, the relationships you build here are not fleeting but can be long-lasting partnerships that further your academic and professional journey.

Tips for a Successful Internship Experience

The real work begins once you’ve jumped through all the hoops to secure your spot in the NIH Summer Internship Program. No, it’s not just about getting your foot in the door; it’s about making the most of this golden opportunity. So, what can you do to maximize your experience?

A student looking happy while reading something in her laptop.

1. Proactively Seek Feedback from Your Mentors

Not every day, you get to work alongside scientists who are leaders in their fields. So, use this opportunity wisely. Don’t wait for feedback to be handed to you; actively seek it. After completing tasks or presenting findings, ask for a critique. Constructive criticism can illuminate your blind spots and help you grow academically and personally.

But feedback isn’t just about knowing what you did wrong. It’s also about understanding what you did right. Knowing your strengths can be equally empowering. It allows you to understand where you excel, which can be a significant confidence booster, especially in a high-stakes environment like the NIH.

2. Attend All Available Seminars, Workshops, and Social Events

Your internship isn’t just about the work you’ll be doing in the lab. Seminars and workshops add layers to your education, broadening your perspective beyond the routine of daily tasks. At seminars, you’re exposed to the latest research findings and emerging technologies, which can stimulate your intellect and spur creative thinking.

But why should you also attend social events? In a word: Networking. But it’s more than just handing out business cards; it’s about building relationships. These events provide a more relaxed setting to interact with your peers and mentors, and you never know which casual conversation might lead to your next big opportunity.

3. Network with Other Interns and Scientists to Foster Professional Relationships

You’ve heard the adage, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” While your knowledge and skills will propel you forward, the relationships you cultivate can provide an equally compelling edge. Take the initiative to engage with other interns and scientists.

Don’t just keep to yourself; ask questions, offer insights, and volunteer for collaborative projects. You’re not just building a network but cultivating a professional community that could be instrumental in your future endeavors.

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