Your Guide to Gaining Research Experience Abroad
Lauren Winsor is currently studying at Wellesley College through the Killam Fellowships Program. Prior to her semester in the States, Lauren studied psychology at Newfoundland's Memorial University, where she has contributed to multiple research studies. A Rhodes Scholarship Finalist, Lauren aspires to become a practicing physician and research scientist, focusing on mental health and health promotion. The following is Lauren's best advice for students interested in gaining research experience abroad during their undergraduate career. Full disclosure: Lauren is an Atlantis Author, an independent contractor position with Atlantis. In Summer 2017, she spent three weeks on an Atlantis Research Fellowship in Barcelos, Portugal.
Are you looking for summer research jobs? Do you want to travel and see the world? What if I told you that there are ways to simultaneously accomplish both goals?
Last summer, I was fortunate enough to participate in an international internship program in Switzerland. If you have a desire to conduct research abroad like I did, check out my article below for some actionable steps on how to get started.
Set up a meeting with professors to discuss the possibility of working abroad with their internationally-based colleagues.
When seeking out an international research internship, there are lots of factors to consider. As a first step, consider reaching out to your university’s Internationalization Office or Office of International Study. The staff there can help you navigate the more confusing aspects of international work placements. They may also be able to connect you with other people who can answer any questions you have about applications, transfer credits, payment, and visa applications.
Your professors and peers can also be helpful resources. If you have professors who conduct research at an international institute, and you are interested in their field of study, set up a meeting with them to discuss the possibility of working abroad with their internationally-based colleagues. A fellow Canadian friend of mine did this last year and spent part of the summer conducting research in Atlanta, Georgia.
Moreover, if students at your university have participated in international research internships, reach out to them to ask for advice. If their experiences researching abroad were as amazing as mine, they will be more than happy to help you with your search!
Peruse University Partnerships
Stop by your local Internationalization Office to gain advice and an introduction to the world of university research partnerships. Most universities have partnership agreements with other institutions wherein students of either university can attend the other for work or study. These partnerships are a great way to uncover international research internships, and they may allow you to receive research funding and/or course credit for the time that you spend abroad. To get more information on your university’s international partnerships, check out your Internationalization Office website – for example, the office at the University of British Columbia – or set up a meeting with an international work and study advisor to get more information.
Location, Location, Location
Some internship programs do not require a university partnership. In these cases, you are free to choose your work placement based on location. Listed below are several summer research programs based in countries with world-renowned reputations in science, technology, and innovation.
Renowned for its beautiful scenery, chocolate, cheese, and scientific innovation, Switzerland is the destination of choice for many young researchers. Last summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the Sciences de Vie Summer Research Program (SRP) at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland. The EPFL, or Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, is a prestigious research institute and university that hosts up to 25 students of any nationality each summer in a two-month research internship program meant to foster innovation in young researchers. While interning at the EPFL, I was able to conduct fascinating neuroscience research, make new friends from all over the world, and travel around a beautiful country. A similar program also exists for computer science and engineering students through EPFL’s School of Computer and Communication Sciences.
In addition to the EPFL SRP, there is a biological and medical sciences Summer Undergraduate Research (SUR) program hosted by the University of Lausanne (UNIL), also in Lausanne, Switzerland. UNIL is a well-respected research university that has produced multiple Nobel laureates and hosts 15-20 undergraduate researchers of any nationality each summer. The EPFL SRP and UNIL SUR programs run simultaneously, and there are joint events hosted for each year’s SRP/SUR cohort. Luckily, the EPFL Lausanne campus and UNIL are next door, so participants in both programs can easily become friends and meet for lunch almost every day.
Both the EPFL and UNIL programs provide students with a stipend to help with travel and living expenses. Applications for EPFL and UNIL summer research internship programs are typically due in late January each year, and decision emails are sent to all applicants by the end of February.
If your location of choice is Switzerland, but your field of interest is not represented in the EPFL or UNIL programs, you can apply for ThinkSwiss funding to conduct research at any public research institute or university in Switzerland. This research scholarship is available to Canadian and American students, and requires the student to identify a Swiss supervisor and outline a 2-3 month project in the application. The ThinkSwiss application process tends to take a little longer than those for the programs outlined above, so get started by searching for supervisors at least two months in advance of the mid-January application deadline.
In addition to its natural beauty, Germany is well known for its excellence in research and technology. Students at Canadian, American, British, and Irish universities have the opportunity to experience German scientific innovation through the Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) program, which is funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). DAAD provides funding for students to conduct research for 10-12 weeks at universities and institutes all over Germany. From Berlin to Dresden to Munich, there is something for every natural sciences and engineering student to explore! Application deadlines vary by year. For this upcoming summer, applications opened in November 2017 and closed on December 15, with letters of recommendation due by January 2.
Japan is another country that stands out for its scientific discovery and technological innovation. Rich in history and beauty, Japan is an exciting destination for research abroad. The dream of researching in Japan can be realized through the Amgen Scholars Japan Program, which offers two-month-long, paid internships at the University of Tokyo or Kyoto University to science students of any nationality. Application deadlines for both universities typically fall in late January or early February, with programs running from June to August.
Along with the Japan Program, Amgen Scholars offers similar research internship programs at leading universities and institutes in the United States for American citizens and permanent residents.
Amgen Scholars also boasts a Europe Program at premier research institutes in England, France, Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland. It is open to students studying at European universities (see the website for the definition of a “European” university). Application deadlines for these programs are specific to the individual host institutions, but typically range from late January to mid-February. The internship period extends from late May/early June to late July/early August.
Lastly, the Mitacs Globalink Research Award offers Canadian senior undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to conduct 12 to 24-week-long research internships in one of the following countries: Australia, Brazil, China, European Union member states, Israel, India, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Students are required to secure a supervisor and plan a project prior to applying for the award, so make sure to research your desired location and find a rewarding research project in your destination of choice! If students wish to conduct research in the summer, applications for this award are due in January. Fall research internship applications are due in May and winter applications are due in September.
To conclude, follow these steps to begin making your research and travel dreams a reality:
- Ask your university’s Internationalization office how to set up international internships. Seek advice from professors and peers who have experience in these areas.
- Research your university’s international partnerships for a program that matches your personal interests
- Apply to well-established research internship programs outside of Canada
- Do not give up – work hard and you can achieve your international research dreams!
Finding international research positions is challenging and rewarding. The list above is by no means exhaustive, and there are countless internship programs not mentioned here. Remember – the Internet is your friend, and the best way to find an internship that you will love is to search for it yourself. That is how I found the EPFL SRP – and a week before the application deadline no less!
Pursuing research internship abroad is one of the best things I ever decided to do. I had so much fun making new friends, exploring a new corner of the world, and conducting fascinating, cutting-edge research. It’s your turn to do the same!
Lauren grew up in St. John's, the most easterly city in Canada, and studied psychology at Memorial University. Currently based out of Wellesley, Massachusetts, she is completing the final semester of her Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree at Wellesley College through the Killam Fellowships Program. In her spare time, Lauren enjoys volunteering, playing music, and spending time with her friends, family, and wonderful dog. In the future, she hopes to become a practicing physician and research scientist, with a focus on mental health and health promotion.