Research involvement is an important part of many students’ education at Amherst. It emphasizes that science occurs primarily outside the classroom. It develops skills that complement those learned through coursework. It gives a taste of research for those considering grad school.
Students can get involved as early as their first year. All of our faculty have active projects, and most students directly participate in a faculty member’s work. How do you join in? Talk to the faculty about their work and ask if there’s a way you can take part. Just send an e-mail and ask for a lab tour.
Most students start when there’s a large amount of time available. That typically means over the summer, though sometimes the Interterm can be a trial time for starting a project.
In the summer after your first or second year, consider applying to the SURF program on campus. It will fund up to 10 weeks in a professor’s lab and provides additional programs about scientific communication and research methods. It is often possible to fund students outside the SURF program either through the Dean of the Faculty’s office or a faculty member’s external grant. Deadlines for on-campus research are typically in February and March.
A senior honors thesis is an opportunity to explore a topic in depth for a whole year. You’ll work closely with a faculty advisor and present your work publicly and in a written document. The summer before senior year is a great time to get started and build momentum that carries you into the semester. Funding for a stipend and housing is typically available for eight weeks and sometimes more.
Beyond Amherst, there are many summer research opportunities across the country and around the world. The National Science Foundation supports many Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) sites. Many large labs like NIST and Fermilab host their own programs. In recent years, we have sent students to places like LIGO and CERN. The summer before your junior year is a great time to attend one of these. Application deadlines are typically in January.