How much research experience do PhD programs expect?

UMN East Bank students on lawn


Hands-on experience beyond laboratory coursework is an absolute requirement for successful applications to our Ph.D. programs in the biomedical sciences. But how much experience is enough? While there is no hard and fast answer, the applicants who receive invitations to interview with our programs have typically done research in at least two laboratories and have letters of recommendation from their faculty mentors. These experiences can be in full time summer research programs and/or research done part time during the academic year, postbaccalaureate progams, working as a paid scientist in a lab or in Masters programs. In total, it is common that these experiences total over 1000 hours of research.

Here are programs that will help you get the research experience you need to be a competitive applicant to graduate school.

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

These summer undergraduate research programs provide an excellent way to enhance your resume and to experience the excitement of scientific discovery firsthand.

Students who are from groups underrepresented in biological sciences research, from low-income homes, first-generation college students, those with disabilities or attend small liberal arts colleges with limited research opportunities are especially encouraged to apply.

University of Minnesota Summer Programs

We hope that you can come to Minnesota to participate in one of our summer programs, but all of our graduate programs want to encourage you to get as much research experience as you can. Even if you do not come to Minnesota, we want to help you find a summer internship somewhere. To that end, we have found sites that maintain lists of summer programs available nationally.

Please note that while there are no application fees, all programs are very competitive. We advise you to apply to at least four programs and more if you have time. 

National lists of summer programs

Postbaccalaureate Programs

Want to deepen your research experience to strengthen your graduate school application? Need help choosing between medical school or graduate school? A post-baccalaureate research opportunity may be just what you're looking for.

NIH IRTA program

The largest program, in terms of the number of available positions, is the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Intramural Research Training Award program. This program is well designed to give you research experience and also provides some preparation for applying to graduate school.  This program is not necessarily the best for a student who has very little research experience or who has struggled with their academics.

PREP programs

Another NIH-funded mechanism may be best suited to students who need to strengthen their credentials prior to applying to graduate school. These are Postbaccalaureate Research Experience Programs (PREP). These are located in a number of universities. They pay a stipend and provide full-time research experience in a lab with the goal of having you successfully be admitted to a Ph.D. program.

NIBR Scholars program

The Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research Gap Year Scholars Program is a new opportunity that provides for 1.5 to 2 years of paid research experience. There are start dates of January or June-August, with application deadlines of September 30 and January 31.

Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience PRE Fellows program

The PRE Fellows Program at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI) provides recent college graduates who are planning to apply to graduate school an opportunity to spend one or two years performing full-time research at MPFI. PRE Fellows work under the mentorship of some of the world’s leading scientists, in an environment that exclusively focuses on basic neuroscience research. MPFI consists of seven research groups in a state-of-the-art research facility located in Jupiter, FL on the same campus as Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and The Scripps Research Institute – Florida.