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Why was I not accepted into the summer program?

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Because we receive nearly 600 applications every year for the Harvard Forest Summer Research Program, we are unable to provide detailed feedback to anyone that we are unable to hire. The most common reasons that an applicant was not hired are listed below.


1. The applicant’s aspirations and goals do not match up well with projects. There is intense competition for each position. Applicants whose personal aspirations, educational pathways, or career goals as discussed in their essay do not fit well with a particular project are unlikely to be hired. For example, if a student writes that s/he is pursuing a goal in wetland management or pollution control but has identified a project on small mammal dynamics in hemlock forests as her/his first choice, there is a clear mismatch.

 2. The applicant’s letters of recommendation are non-specific or weak. It is very important that the faculty advisor, teacher, or employer writing a letter of recommendation writes a strong letter that is focused on the match between the summer research program/project and the applicant’s aspirations and goals. Students not only should ask a potential reference if s/he can write a letter of recommendation but also should ask if s/he can write a strong letter of recommendation. Follow up with a discussion of the summer research program and how it meshes with the student’s short- and long-term goals.

 3. The applicant lacks particular skills. Although most of our projects do not require particular skills, some do. For example, projects involving computer programming may require that students already have facility with a specific programming language such as Java, R, or C. For other projects, demonstration of work-skills, commitment to a job, or leadership will be more important.

 4. The applicant has too much previous REU experience. Summer research programs like that at Harvard Forest are Research Experiences for Undergraduates. In general, we hire students who have not had a previous paid summer or academic-year research internship so that we can provide them with a first research experience.

 5. The applicant is not academically well prepared. Demonstration that the applicant has had lab- or field-based coursework that emphasizes the scientific method is important. We do not use a particular grade-point average (GPA) as a reason to decline an applicant. However, reasons for unusually poor grades in science courses should be discussed in essays and/or letters of recommendations.

 6. The applicant is indifferent or unenthusiastic during the application process or interviews. One of the most important characteristics of successful applicants is enthusiasm. It is important to respond promptly to e-mails and be available for scheduled interviews. We seek students who not only really want to do research in the summer but also really want to do that research at the Harvard Forest. This is not simply another internship.

 7. The applicant is disrespectful during interviews. The Harvard Forest Summer Research Program is an intensive 11-week residential experience. Students ranging in age from 17 to > 40, coming from different parts of the world and with different backgrounds, live together, work together, and play together all summer. It is important that the participants demonstrate an ability to respect their peers and mentors.

 8. The applicant cannot be here for the full length of the program. Students are expected to be at the Harvard Forest from the day before the program starts until the last day of the program. In most years, the program starts the 3rd week of May and ends the first week of August. Trimesters that run into mid-June, extended summer vacations, or other conflicts rarely can be accommodated.

 9. The applicant currently is not enrolled in a 2- or 4-year college or university. The vast majority of the available funding for our summer research program can be used only to support undergraduate students (including students who are planning to enroll as freshman in the coming fall). Only on rare occasions can we can support one or two students who have already graduated from college or who are already enrolled in a M.Sc. program.

 10. The applicant is not a U.S. citizen or green-card holder. The vast majority of the available funding for our summer research program can be used only to support students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Only on rare occasions can we can support one or two students who are neither U.S. citizens nor permanent residents.

 11. There are simply too many good applicants. Even after we have winnowed the applicant pool based on the preceding ten criteria, there are still far more highly qualified applicants than we can possibly hire in any given summer. If the applicant is willing, we can share their application with other REU programs with which we interact.