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MIT student blogger Melis A. '08

Finding a job at the National Institutes of Health by Melis A. '08

A guide to getting a job at the NIH

Nick asked: “I was wondering how you got your job at the NIH National Human Genome Research Institute? Thanks a lot for your help.”

This is an interesting question, one that took me about four years to figure out how to answer. As part of my high school’s curriculum, we were required to complete a Senior Research Project and I thought it would be neat to do my research at the NIH. So, I dug around the NIH website (http://www.nih.gov/) and came across the Research and Training Opportunities page (http://www.training.nih.gov/student/) with links to student programs. After sending in the Summer Internship Program (SIP) application (which includes 2 recommendations, an essay, a resume, a cover letter, and a grade report), I waited… and waited… and waited… until March when I received an e-mail saying that I was not able to be placed in a laboratory. I thought it was just because of my lack of experience, so I repeated the same process for the next two years.

Finally, I found out that the SIP application just goes into a giant database where NIH scientists can search through different fields and find students that meet their criteria. But, the chances of them randomly coming across your information are so low! What you have to do is browse the NIH website or talk to friends and neighbors to find the name of specific scientists whose research you’re interested in. E-mail them directly and maybe attach a resume. I’d recommend e-mailing a LOT of researchers and starting the application process very early (January or February) for best results. And be persistent! Emphasize your strengths, educational background, and desire to learn.

Once you are in MIT, you can use the Institute Career Assistance Network (ICAN) https://alum.mit.edu/cs/ican/index.html) to get advice and find alums at virtually every company or organization you could possibly want to work for. The database has the contact information of more than 2,900 MIT alums who just want to help current students find a job and figure out what they want to do in life. I also used the amazing Alumni Directory (https://alum.mit.edu/as/index.html) to get in contact with several NIH scientists that went to MIT at some point in their lives. I can’t say enough good things about the directory; you can search by geographic location, company, graduation date, course, degree, student activity, sports, living group… anything! By using the directory, I spoke to one doctor who gave me a lot of great information and advice about clinical research, and I found the names of other researchers who ultimately offered me jobs. In fact, I found my current job using the directory. So, don’t let this amazing resource go to waste!

Ooh, fun fact of the day, NIH is doing radio podcasts now: http://www.nih.gov/news/radio/nihpodcast.htm

I had a pretty interesting past couple of days, which I promise to write about soon!

3 responses to “Finding a job at the National Institutes of Health”

  1. Phil says:

    great post!

    also, if ur in hs, it may be useful to keep an eye out for the kind-of-selective student programs – such as howard hughes, ORWH-FAES-NIH Summer Program, etc. (there’s prob programs for college students too). You probably have a better chance than the general app. I did the ORWH, and it was great cuz you got to actually pick a lab of your choice.

    oh btw Melis, would u equally prefer working at MIT doing a urop over the summer as working at NIH? I was thinking about different options next summer… thanks.

  2. Phil says:

    p.s. tho Melis’s way is prob best! i was personally lazy and ignorant… ;P

  3. George says:

    Melis! A post from a fellow ’08er who also lives in Bethesda, MD and has also worked at NIH… freaky, huh?

    My experience was similar to Melis’ in many respects, except that it was much less painful (sorry Melis…). When I was in high school, I had no clue what research was, and I only had a vague idea that the NIH existed. But, in January of my junior year, my Dad ran into one of our neighbors, who-it-so-happens works at NIH. They got to talking, and my Dad mentioned that I was into science. My neighbor urged my Dad to get me to apply for a summer internship at NIH, and even recommended a scientist who would give me a fantastic research education.

    Bear in mind that at the time, I was pretty much clueless in the ways of getting a job. I went to meet this scientist, with a resume written entirely by my Dad, not a single recommendation, and totally unprepared to even answer the “what are your scientific interests” question.

    However, I had an advantage. I had no idea what the stakes were, so I wasn’t nervous at all. I was barely aware that I was at a job interview! Anyway, I told my interviewer that I was in search for an adventure, for a really tough problem to solve, but other than that, I had no idea what my interests were. He asked me who wrote my resume, and only then did I realize that it probably would have been a good idea to write it myself. Apart from that hiccup, the interview went well, and he explained to me the quagmire that is the NIH application process. Melis has already been through it, so I won’t repeat myself.

    I got my wish for a hard project: three summers later, I finally got… halfway to a solution. I generated enough data for an MPU (if you know what that stands for, then you have done too much research), and then decided that my interests lay elsewhere. I got a first-class research education though. My mentor has taught me things that I will remember for the rest of my life. I highly recommend the NIH route, at least for one summer.