Are you a student? Do you want to work in a lab over the summer holidays?

green-cell-webAre you a student? Do you want to work in a research laboratory in the summer of 2016? If so you need to start planning it now. If you are doing an undergraduate (first) degree in a biological/biomedical science then you can apply for money to work in a laboratory over the summer (a vacation or summer studentship). These sort of “jobs” are usually funded by a bursary and you need to start your application now for a position in 2016.

Usually these bursaries are given to students who have one more year of their degree to complete (so if you are doing a Scottish 4 year degree, you usually do the project in the summer after your third year. If you are doing a degree at an English university, it is usually a 3 year course and you do the project at the end of your second year.) There are some exceptions to this so you will need to check out the criteria of the individual grants.

These are bursaries, so technically you are not employed, as far as I understand it the money you receive is not taxed and you don’t pay National Insurance contributions, but you will need to check this out. Some schemes are only open to medical or dentistry students and some to basic scientists. As a rule, the two that you can apply for are the Wellcome Trust and the Nuffield Foundation (see the table below). For most of the rest of them your potential supervisor (boss) puts in the application. Often these are restricted to people who already receive substantial funding from the organisation involved. Sometimes your supervisor needs to be a member of a particular society to apply.

Sponsor Closing Date Eligibility/Notes Pay Per Week
Nuffield Foundation 9th February 2016 About 700 people applied last year and 400 were successful £180 (6-8 weeks)
The Biochemical Society 12th February 2016 Apply via your University. The supervisor needs to be a member of the Biochemical Society £200 (6-8 weeks)
The Wellcome Trust 15th February 2016 About 500 people applied last year and 250 were successful £180 (8 weeks)
The British Society for Cell Biology 30th April 2016 ? Apply via your University. The supervisor needs to be a member of the BSCB £180 (8 weeks)
The Carnegie Trust Not Specified Open to Scottish Students. Apply via your University (and not the Carnegie Trust) £130 (6 weeks)
The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh 31st March 2016 Open to medical and dental students £150 (8 weeks)
The Genetics Society 31st March 2016 Apply via your University. The supervisor needs to be a member of the Genetics Society £225 (10 weeks)
BBSRC Not Applicable BBSRC grant holders can apply on your behalf £200 (10 weeks)
The Pathological Society 31st January 2016

30th April 2016

The supervisor must be a member of the Pathological Society. Open to medical students, dentists and biomedical scientists £150 (8 weeks)

You are not going to make much money working as a summer student and the chances are you’ll be working full time Monday to Friday so it does limit the other jobs you can do on top. Many students simply can’t afford to take these jobs because after paying rent and travelling costs you earn very little. However, if you can afford it, it gives you good experience to put on your CV, which is especially important if you are planning on doing an M.Sc or PhD when you graduate.

So how do you go about getting these jobs?  Sometimes they will be advertised in your department. If you want to work in research and haven’t seen any opportunities advertised, then you’ll have to do it yourself.  Find a lecturer, whose work looks interesting (and who you think you could work for) and approach them.  Ask if they have any summer studentships or if they would be willing to put in an application on your behalf.  If you show that you’re keen and have already identified some possible sources of funding they are more likely to take you seriously. If the first person you ask isn’t interested, ask someone else!  Final year students are a good source of information as some of them may have done summer projects, they will also have an idea of who is good (or bad) to work for.  You can probably recognise the final year students, they’ll be the ones that live in the department and look pale and stressed (!).

The table above is not an exhaustive list, there are other societies (and drug companies) that offer summer placements, have a look at the websites below for other sources of funding:

Please note that Cancer Research UK no longer offer their “Long vacation Bursaries” although there are some Cancer Research UK bursaries open to clinicians, nurses and professions allied to medicine. Aberdeen University also have summer research grants open to medical students and junior doctors called “Future Leaders in Cancer Research Scheme”, this is funded by the local charity, CRANES, Cancer Research Aberdeen and North Scotland.


When I was an undergraduate at Dundee University I did a summer project at the University of Aberdeen, it was funded by the Nuffield Foundation.  I was working on a project looking at N-acetyl glucosamine in diabetes and ended up doing by PhD in the same lab, so summer projects can be very worthwhile. Have you worked on a summer project?  Would you reccommend it to other students?


3 comments to Are you a student? Do you want to work in a lab over the summer holidays?


    I’m a South African student doing biomedical technology
    and would like to work in one of your labs during the 2011 summer holidays.
    please update me on next year’s opportunities.


  • Sarah

    Hi, sorry, I can’t help I don’t have a lab! Hopefully this post will have given you some ideas of where you can look for further information.

  • My brother recommended I might like this blog. He was totally right. This post actually made my day. You can not imagine just how much time I had spent for this info!

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