If you’re considering pursuing a career in the STEM-M fields (science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine), gaining some experience in research is an incredible way to begin or grow your interest. Especially before applying to college, having exposure in laboratory research or completing a research-focused internship yields a great advantage in the application process.
In this blog, we’ll share an opportunity to expand this interest, - the Air Force Research Laboratory Scholars Program, a prestigious program for high school students hosted by the University Space Research Association (USRA). The program is hosted at various locations across the United States and grants students a fulfilling summer research internship, learning about concepts important for space and aeronautics fields.
In this blog, we cover the AFRL Scholars Program's key details, such as eligibility, location, cost, dates and deadlines, as well as 8 reasons why you should participate.
What is AFRL?
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Scholars Program is a paid internship program, for students in STEM fields, on one of their national research sites. The program seeks to support the mission of the U.S. Department of the Air Force by offering immersive, project-based learning at the USRA. Each year, the program takes place for eight weeks in the summer (exact dates vary per internship). During this time, students support a research project through an established researcher in fields ranging from engineering to biomedical lab work.
The purpose of the AFRL Scholars program is to provide high school students with concrete approaches to strengthen the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce pipeline. It also seeks to mold students into more effective leaders and solidify a foundation for future success in a myriad of ways. This program expands opportunities in these career fields with a specific focus on students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.
Alumni of the program have attested to the effectiveness of this program as a hands-on way to learn about future career pathways, whether it be graduate school or industry careers. Students have called it “enormously beneficial” with “infinite [real-life] applications.”
Who is eligible to apply?
AFRL welcomes all high school students at least 16 years of age at the time of application submission. Students must be U.S. citizens and the program is not open to legal permanent residents. As far as academic requirements, it is highly recommended that students have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher and are considered to be in good academic standing.
Furthermore, students interested in the program should be prepared to work 40 hours per week (for the summer internship), as well as willing to temporarily relocate to the physical work site. Additionally, students must be able to arrange transportation to their respective worksite and pass a background check.
The eligibility criteria are not incredibly extensive, so you should absolutely consider applying if you are eligible! In any case, make sure to read through the eligibility guidelines on the website carefully, and reach out to your teachers or academic advisor for any further clarifications!
Where can you apply for AFRL?
Requirements for the program include an online application, a resume, and unofficial transcripts. However, to deem your application competitive, a letter of recommendation is highly recommended. To apply for the scholars program, students must make an account through the AFRL Scholars Program and complete the online requirements by January. If you are a new user, select “Create New Application” to be navigated to the appropriate site. Deadlines vary based on the AFRL sites or the projects that one is applying to, so be sure to pay attention to the site-specific deadline. The link to the portal may be found here!
Is AFRL considered prestigious?
The Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is a nationally-recognized non-profit that falls under the guidance of the National Academy of Sciences. Coupled with the fact that 113 universities hold institutional membership at the organization, an opportunity to complete an internship there is considered prestigious. USRA also works with influential organizations like NASA and Google. Coupled with the fact that the internship asks students to complete independent research over a summer, we’d consider this opportunity a prestigious one.
8 Reasons Why You Should Consider Applying to AFRL
1. You will build a strong network with a diverse array of mentors.
One of the distinctive features of this program is that students receive direct guidance and mentorship from USRA scientists and engineers across the country. When applying for the program, students are encouraged to check out the list of mentors on the website. Mentors range in background from industry professionals to university professors. In reading their biographies and research interests, students can choose a mentor tailored to their own passions! The possibility of hand-selecting your mentor is a unique one unavailable in most internships. Exploring STEM-M careers through esteemed professionals at the USRA opens wide doors for mentorship and network-building.
Tip: If you establish a great connection with your mentor, you could even ask them to serve as a reference for you for your college applications, depending on if it aligns with your application narrative.
2. You will receive a stipend for your participation.
Another great benefit of participating in the AFRL program is that interns receive stipend pay during their internship. Stipends are determined based on the most recent session stipends. In this way, the program does not require students to spend their own money in order to engage in this opportunity.
3. You will conduct your own independent research under a prestigious institution.
Interns in the Air Force Research Laboratory program spend their internships working alongside professors and scientists on a unique, research-based project. From here, students can develop a niche area of study and expand on that interest through their work at the laboratory site. Moving beyond textbooks, the internship really focuses on applying research in a practical way. Students will run experimental trials, collect their own data, and play a primary role in analyzing and interpreting their results. In the past, students have conducted projects programming computers, measuring nanoparticles, and applying 3D modeling. While you’re there, students are also able to tour the facility!
4. You will have the opportunity to present your research findings.
After conducting research through an internship, AFRL requires that scholars in their program write a technical report, as well as present their research to their branch. This will occur at the end of the summer and it is through this opportunity that participants can receive feedback from esteemed scientists in their field. Learning to present research findings and communicate them accordingly are important skills crucial to future academic and professional success.
5. You will experience hands-on learning of basic science skills.
As an intern, you will be expected to contribute to unique, research-based projects in traditional and non-traditional laboratory settings. In doing so, you would develop valuable skills that can serve to launch a future career in research within STEM-M fields. Each internship also supplements with necessary training and instruction on new skills in programming and other high-end technology. Many incoming high school students lack hands-on research experience, so this also provides a competitive advantage when applying for college or other academic programs.
6. You will gain important exposure to interdisciplinary fields of science.
The AFRL Scholars program approaches research from a multidisciplinary lens. Research topics for this internship are super wide-ranging and allow the opportunity to learn about aerospace and its related sciences from all sorts of angles. AFRL even offers a couple of internships in non-STEM fields! Some of the existing internship options include software development for space vehicles, aerospace historians, satellite navigation, and atomic physics.
7. You can use your experience to make your college application stand out.
Given the USRA’s prestigious status as an influential nonprofit under the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), an internship through AFRL is sure to impress admissions officers at universities, especially those with a research or aerospace focus. USRA holds membership with over 100 universities worldwide, so this internship would grant applicants an advantage if that institution is one of those that USRA collaborates with. Becoming an AFRL scholar is an excellent way to ensure your application stands out, opening pathways to advanced research positions while in college and beyond!
8. You can explore various parts of the United States.
The AFRL Scholars program is wonderful in offering different sites for their internship. In this way, students can explore a new area outside of their hometown, acquiring important personal and professional skills simultaneously. The AFRL offers programs in the following states/locations: Ohio, New York, Nevada, Texas, Hawaii, Louisiana, Colorado, Tennessee, Florida, and Washington, D.C. With this wide variety of options, there is sure to be a new adventure for anyone!
If you are interested in doing university-level research in physics, aerospace engineering, or mechanical engineering then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Aisha is a student at Princeton University, studying Anthropology and Global Health. On campus, she is involved with student groups centered around health equity and cultural affinity. In her free time, she enjoys podcasting, learning languages, and trying new recipes.
Image Source: AFRL logo