Question: I hope to spend some time over fall break applying for internships. How do I start?
Answer: The Center for Career Development provides a step by step guide for your internship search, and it begins with spending some time just thinking: about yourself, your interests and your goals. Specifically as a prehealth student, consider what you want to gain from your summer: Do you seek hands-on patient care experience to be sure medicine is for you (or to build evidence for med schools that it’s for you)? Exposure to research, to see if you want to pursue it long-term? A chance to address an issue you’re passionate about? Something to do near home, or maybe a chance to see a completely new place? An opportunity to experiment with another field as you decide between health and another interest? Remember that you can always build in some health-related activity in your spare time outside of your primary summer endeavor (e.g., if you’re working in consulting 50-60 hours per week, volunteer at a hospital or clinic for a couple of shifts in the evenings or weekends). Once you’ve thought more about what you might want, start doing some online searching, cast your net widely, use the HPA clinical and research web pages, and keep good notes on deadlines and requirements so that you’ll be able to create an action plan on what applications to do when.
Planning for Internship Applications
Question: I was hoping to start applying for internships over fall break but it seems like a lot of the applications aren’t available yet. Is there anything I can do while I wait?
Answer: This is a good time to start researching what will be out there – create a spreadsheet for yourself where you can keep track of URLs, program deadlines, requirements (do they want letters of recommendation? Other materials?). Use the resources on the HPA website as a place to start looking for opportunities. Some research internships will require you to identify potential mentors, so you can do some preliminary website research to learn more about the faculty and their research. You’ll need a resume for many applications, so you can also work on updating your resume over the break. Use the Career Services resources for resume guidance.
Question: I’m a freshman pre-med student and I’m wondering what I should do this summer. I’ve already done hospital volunteering in High School. Should I work in a lab?
Answer: There’s no one way to answer the question of what you “should” do this summer. Instead, we might ask you to think about what would you enjoy doing? What would give you a new and different kind of experience from what you have done in the past? What would help you develop interpersonal skills and an ethic of service? What would allow you to recharge your batteries? While your high school volunteer experience may have been helpful in your decision to pursue the prehealth path, it will be important to continue to develop clinical exposure (either as a volunteer, or by shadowing physicians) in order to enhance your own understanding of what it means to practice medicine, and in order to convey to a medical school that you have deepened your engagement throughout your college years. You may choose to gain more clinical exposure in the summer, but you may prefer to do this during the academic year, and do something entirely different during the summer. Doing benchwork in a lab prior to medical school is certainly not essential (unless you are pursuing an MD/PhD). If you are passionate about lab work and want to pursue it, that’s fine. But don’t spend your summer in lab because you think you “should.” No matter what you want to do this summer, start thinking about it now if you haven’t already. Be sure to check our Summer Clinical and Research pages for ideas about summer experiences. And, if you do something great that’s not on our list yet, by all means let us know!
Summer at Home
Hi HPA – I need to be home for the summer but I still want to do something relevant to my interest in medicine. Do you have suggestions?
We’d be happy to brainstorm with you based on your location! Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Think of your own service-based internship that addresses a need in your home community and apply for funding through the Bogle Fellowship (first-years), Derian ProCES internship (sophomores and juniors), or other funding opportunity available through SAFE.
- If you can afford to work without pay and are interested in research, reach out to faculty at local colleges/universities whose work is of interest and see if they would accept a volunteer researcher. Write a professional email describing your interest in the work and attach a copy of your resume. Local medical schools and colleges and may also have funded summer undergraduate research programs.
- If you need to work, think about jobs that help you develop some of the core competencies sought in entering medical students. Anything where you work as part of a team and learn to communicate with others, especially those from backgrounds different from your own, can be very valuable.
- Reach out via the Princeton network to seek shadowing or even internship opportunities. Use the LinkedIn Princeton alumni search and TigerNet to locate local alums. Our HPA Shadowing Tips handout provides guidance on how to reach out.
- Google premed/prehealth advising offices at colleges and universities near home and see if they have ideas for local opportunities.
If you’re working 40 hours per week, there’s plenty of time to work in some shadowing or volunteering around your job, but be sure to also leave yourself some down time to recharge and come back refreshed next year!
Finding a Summer 'Internship'
Question: I am a freshman and I just want to make sure I don’t miss the chance to find an internship for the summer. I don’t see specific internships listed on the HPA website. Am I missing something? Can you give me advice about where to look and what kinds of internships are a good idea to consider?
Answer: Any internships we hear about are posted in our Vitals newsletter, so be sure to contact us if you'd like to subscribe! We also list them in a separate Summer Opportunities page. In addition to Vitals, be sure to check Hire Tigers, the Career Services online system for current postings of all internships as well as full-time jobs. We encourage prehealth students to become familiar with the Career Services website, including the page devoted to finding internships and guidance on finding alumni who might be willing to host you as an intern, or give advice about where you might look. In addition, we provide links to organizations where Princeton prehealth students have interned over the years in the Prehealth Prep section of our website (both clinical and research opportunities). These may or may not have current opportunities at any given time, but we encourage you to learn about these and similar organizations at home and abroad, and check on what might be available if you are interested. Of course, not every internship you do as a prehealth student needs to be specifically health-related. You can also gain valuable service, leadership, teaching, and research experience—or pursue other talents-- that will be relevant for a future in the health professions. Internships are one great way to gain exposure to medicine, but just don’t forget about shadowing, volunteering during the summer and/or the academic year, coming to “The Doctor Is In” and other presentations, and just keeping an eye on healthcare in the news. Good luck!
Letters of Recommendation as a Freshman
Question: I’m a freshman and I’m applying to internships that require letters of recommendation, but I haven’t gotten to know my science professors well at all. Can I use letters from high school? Can I ask my writing sem or freshman sem prof even though they aren’t in sciences? How about preceptors? Are there other people I should ask?
Answer: The answer is going to vary depending on the internship(s) that you’re applying for. Check to see if this is addressed on their website (usually in application procedures or an FAQ page). If not, it’s fine to contact the program directly. Some internships require college letters but others will accept high school letters; some would strongly prefer science letters while others aren’t as strict – best to get in touch with them individually and see what they say. If they do not prefer science references, then we would recommend choosing faculty or preceptors who have gotten to know you well. Generally, letters from preceptors/TAs are going to be fine – any postdoc or doctoral candidate at the University who instructs our undergrads is a fine recommender. Sometimes a preceptor will co-sign their letter with the primary professor of the course – this is fine, but not required. By the time you’re applying to professional school, we will expect that you’ve gotten to know at least some of your faculty well, but as a newer student, it’s understandable that you haven’t been able to do so yet. Even so, we’d recommend that you start making a point of getting to know faculty via office hours, informal meetings, etc. – the more you practice now, the easier it will be as you progress through your academic career.
Funding for Summer Projects
Question: Dear HPA, I am planning on doing research this summer outside my area of concentration (and thus totally unrelated to my thesis/independent work at Princeton). I was wondering if you know of any grants or scholarships that Princeton offers for undergrads doing mentored summer research over the summer, not necessarily for our thesis or independent work.
Answer: The question of funding your summer ambitions is a great one. There is no one resource, but rather many potential ones. While this doesn’t apply to you, it is good to know that our Financial Aid office in West College is sometimes able to fund coursework taken elsewhere over the summer. For other projects—research, service, clinical work—pre-med students should seek funding from a relevant academic department, although not necessarily the one of your chosen concentration (this depends on the nature of your idea). Another option for funding might come through various Classes via the Alumni Council, or perhaps through the Center for Religious Life or the Office of the Vice President of Campus Life - use the Student Activities Funding Engine to identify possible sources. Our advice to you specifically would be to contact the academic department that is most relevant to the research you’re going to do; we wouldn’t assume that nothing would be available to you only because you’re not concentrating in that department, as there might be a faculty member on campus very interested in your ideas.
Engineering vs. volunteering this summer?
Question: I’m a freshman and I’m thinking about engineering and medicine as my top career options right now. Is it better to take an internship in engineering, or to do some shadowing and hospital volunteer work over the summer?
Answer: Why not do both? The Princeton summer is a luxurious twelve weeks, which means that you have more time than many of your peers at other schools to engage in numerous activities. Many internships last eight to ten weeks, which would still leave time to do some full-time shadowing. It may be worthwhile to let your internship supervisor know that you’re considering a medical career, and see if they have any contacts who you could shadow or know of nearby places where you could volunteer. Once you know your internship site, you can also start googling for nearby hospitals and see if you can do a weekend volunteer shift, an evening EMT training class, spend time at an animal shelter, or take part in a similar endeavor that doesn’t take up too much time. Remember, internships are usually about forty hours a week, so that leaves 128 hours of time – even after adding in commuting, meals, sleep and socializing, you should be able to spare a few hours to gain some medically-relevant experience.
Question: Hi HPA – I am a freshman and I am trying to make plans for this summer. I want to remain in the states and I’d really like to get some clinical exposure, and maybe have a chance to do some clinical research. I don’t have enough money to pay for housing to be out of my hometown… Are there any domestic Princeton programs or resources that you can recommend?
Answer: In the fall semester, the PICS (Princeton Internships in Civic Service) opportunities are announced. In 2012, among the offerings were 23 different paid internships in 13 hospitals or medical/health policy organizations! A PICS internship will have you working closely with terrific physicians and healthcare teams, with alumni as your mentors. Details about each organization and position are posted on the PICS website. The PICS Application is due in January. Keep in mind that non-clinical, and non-health related PICS opportunities can also be relevant and meaningful prehealth experiences. After all, medicine is about being in the service of others, so getting experience working in these kinds of settings can help you to develop your helping skills, empathy, and leadership potential. Of course PICS is just one option for getting clinical experience. You can also always feel free to use the HPA Physician Shadowing List, the Tigernet Alumni Directory, or contact physicians or other healthcare professionals, or hospital volunteer offices close to home.
Summer Camp Job
Question: I am a pre-med freshman. I know it is suggested that we do medically-related summer programs, but is it absolutely necessary the summer after freshman year? I love kids, and would love to work at a camp this summer, especially since it will probably be the last summer that I would be able to do this. Would this be discouraged? Should I try to volunteer at a hospital or something like that at the same time?
Answer: Go ahead and work at the summer camp. It’s nice to love kids! Medical schools think so, too. Maybe you could hang out with the camp nurse a bit? Some people do their medically-related activity during the academic year instead of the summers. Do what works best for you.
I didn't get an internship ... now what?!
I applied to PICS and IIP but wasn’t accepted. I’m worried that there aren’t any summer options left. What should I do?
We’d first like to refer you to an excellent article written by prehealth student Nanako Shirai for the Princeton OUR blog: What To Do When You’re Rejected From Both PICS and IIP. Her advice is excellent: expand your scope (she provides many helpful links) and don’t get overwhelmed. We can help you brainstorm as well if you come by during drop-in hours or make an appointment. For some specific examples of prehealth students’ summer experiences beyond PICS and IIP, check out the HPA Summer Spotlights.
Summer Opportunities to Prepare for a Research Career
I’m a first-year student hoping to pursue a research career, but I’m not sure if I want to do MD, MD/PhD, or PhD. Are there summer programs you’d recommend that may help me decide between these paths?
One of the most straightforward ways to gain exposure to all three paths is to look for research internships in an academic medical environment where you can see medically-oriented research in action and talk to medical students, residents, physicians, and researchers who are all approaching research from their own type of training and from different points in the career trajectory. Many summer undergraduate research programs exist that are designed to help students understand each track through their own research along with research talks, presentations, shadowing, and other opportunities that are built in to the programs. A few that have been popular with our students in recent years include the Harvard Summer Research Program in Kidney Medicine, Feinstein Summer Research Internship Program, NIH Summer Internship programs (there are a few), and the Baylor Summer Undergraduate Research Training Program. For more tips on securing summer research, see our Question of the Week Archive.
Many students opt to stay at Princeton for their first-year summer. This will provide less exposure to the medical world, but supplementing on-campus research with some shadowing and attending research talks can also be meaningful!
There are a number of MD/PhD students who are pursuing their PhD at Princeton who may be helpful resources, as well. Some of them are hosting a drop-in dinner discussion this coming Tuesday at Forbes—stop by and learn more about their backgrounds and experiences!
Question: Hi HPA – I’m pretty sure that my summer internship will be canceled. What should I do instead?
Answer: We’re sorry that this pandemic has created so much upheaval in semester and summer plans. Try to think about what you were hoping to gain from your summer in terms of knowlede, skills, connections. What questions were you hoping that this experience would help you answer for yourself? What did you hope you could demonstrate to admissions committees based on this experience? Then, try to brainstorm alternative ways that you might seek answers to these questions or demonstrate these competencies. HPA can help with this brainstorming once we have a better sense of the big picture goals you were setting for yourself.
Broadly, service to your local / virtual community is one of the first things we’d recommend—bringing supplies or checking in virtually on elderly neighbors, assisting on an online crisis line … there are many ways to get involved and more ideas will likely spring up as time goes on. Giving blood is another tangible and critical way to contribute right now, even if you may not ultimately put it on your resume.
Ultimately, in this time of crisis, it’s okay to not get that ideal internship opportunity—no one will expect it of you. Take care of yourself, those around you, and the greater community.