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Vacation Scholarships

Pilot study a career in science


So, you're in your second or third (if you're in Scotland) year of your sciences degree and you're considering your options for the future. You don't fancy being a drugs rep for a pharmaceuticals company or joining a graduate training program to become a managing executive for Lidl UK. How about a career as a scientist? After all, you dream about dendrites, make puns about protons and you quote Ben Goldacres 'Bad Science' almost daily. But how do you actually BECOME a scientist? What do scientists really do all day? Never fear my friend,  help is at hand!

Why not think about applying for a summer vacation scholarship?

Every year there are opportunities for bright and interested undergraduates in the biosciences to work at labs in the UK. Over the summer (approx 8 weeks) you work as a full-time scientist on a short project of your own devising. It's more than work experience - you come up with the research question, you design the experiment and you do all the work (with appropriate support, obviously). It's like a taster of what it's like to do a PhD.

Nice idea Becky, but I need to work a summer job in order to eat/drink/clothe myself when Uni starts back in September/October! 

Don't sweat it. You can apply for funding from scientific societies and charities for a modest stipend (approx £180-250pw) to support your living costs while you're working on your project. It's not much, but since it's tax free it's not that far off minimum wage.

Oh, sounds smashing. I'm sold. What do I need to do now?

Well there's two things you need to do:

1) Think about the sort of project you'd like to do, who you'd like to do it with and where you'd like to do it. You need to contact relevant supervisors (email them, send them a letter, go and see them) and tell them that you're interested in applying for a summer vacation scholarship to work with them. Send them a copy of your academic CV so they know how clever you are (if you were awarded a 1st class for your insightful critical review of "current theories of X" last term, then make sure it's on there... along with your A-level (Scottish Highers) grades, marks for degree coursework and anything else that will demonstrate your enthusiasm and willingness to learn). If you have a specific project in mind, tell them about it... if you have a general interest in their area but don't know exactly what you'd like to do then say so. You need to come up with something that is feasible and can be realistically completed in 2 months. Your supervisor can help with this if they have the time and space in their lab to take you on.

2) Read all the information about funding and the application process for each provider CAREFULLY. Carnegie (for example) is only for Scottish students... but you can go and work in a lab anywhere in the UK or even abroad! The Wellcome Trust, I think, generally favour projects that involve working at a University that is NOT where you're currently studying for your undergraduate degree. If you go home for the summer why not think about a summer research project at the University nearest your parents house? Once you've found a supervisor who has agreed to take you on, decided on a project and worked out which funding you're going to apply for you need to GET ON WITH IT. Get that application written. Ask your supervisor for help with any institutional bureaucracy and work with them to write a research proposal that's interesting but achievable in 2 months. Draft and redraft checking with your supervisor along the way. Pay special attention to DEADLINES. If your application form is even a day late it won't be considered at all and all your efforts will be wasted.

Alright Einstein, how come you know so much about all this?

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Glasgow I applied for a Wellcome Summer Vacation Fellowship to work at the York Centre for Neuroimaging with Prof. Andy Young. This formative experience was entirely responsible for my decision to study for a PhD and is the reason that I have a career in science today.... so there!

Fair enough, where can I get more info?

Click the links below for information about summer research scholarships offered by each funding body. The list isn't very regularly updated, so if one of them is dead just Google the name of the funder and "summer research funding" and see if you can locate the most up-to-date webpages. Also worth Googling for yourself to see if there are any new schemes out there that I'm not aware of, or asking your Department at your own institution if they have any funding local to them. Just to be clear, there are definitely more schemes available than those listed here, you just might need to do some digging to find out about them.


Chemistry - the Royal Society of Chemistry
Engineering & Computing - the Royal Academy of Engineering
Gene Therapy - the British Society for Gene Therapy
Geology The Geological Society
Mathematics - the London Mathematical Society
Physics - the Institute of Physics
Radiography - the Society of Radiographers
PsychologyExperimental Psychology Society
Biochemistry - Biochemical Society
Plant Sciences - British Society for Plant Pathology
Genetics - Genetics Society
Microbiology - Society for General Microbiology
UK Charities:

Carnegie Trust (Scotland) 
Medical Research Scotland (Scotland)
Wellcome Trust Vacation Scholarships
The Grindley Research Fund - only for Cambridge undergraduates in the behavioral/psychological  sciences
CBU Summer Placement Scheme - for undergraduates across the UK to undertake a summer research placement at the Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge. 

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