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Stanford's IFSS Program for High Schoolers- 8 Reasons Why You Should Apply

If you’re a high school student with a burgeoning interest in STEM research, you would likely already be looking for summer opportunities to gain research exposure. As research and innovation become more crucial to solving the myriad challenges humanity is dealing with, the more important it becomes to prepare yourself if you’re serious about entering the world of scientific research. Participating in pre-college programs like Stanford's Inspiring Future Scientists through Shadowing (IFSS), the subject of today’s blog, not only enriches your academic experience but significantly boosts your college application profile. Participating in a program like this demonstrates your commitment to learning and can give you a taste of college-level studies and research, setting you apart from other applicants.


What is IFSS all about?

The IFSS program, hosted by Stanford University’s Chemistry department each summer, is designed for rising high school juniors and seniors. It is essentially a shadow program, aimed to immerse you in cutting-edge chemical research by pairing you with graduate student mentors in the lab. This unique shadowing experience allows you to explore the world of scientific research hands-on, fostering a deeper understanding of chemistry and its applications​.


Stanford University’s Chemistry department was one of the founding departments at Stanford, running since 1891. Studying here, you will get to interact with a faculty that has a Nobel Laureate as well as a National Medal of Science awardee. You will also get to work with the graduate students, each working on real, crucial core chemical research.


How is IFSS structured?

The essence of the IFSS program revolves around hands-on laboratory research and mentorship. Unlike other shadowing or internship programs, here you will not be matched with a single mentor; instead, you will be paired with multiple graduate students, each working on their own distinct projects. This will allow you to gain insights into real-world scientific processes and potential career paths in chemical science. Working with multiple researchers will help you understand the different kinds of research as well as a wide array of scientific topics and techniques.


IFSS is held from June 17th to June 28th every weekday at the Stanford campus.


Who is eligible for IFSS?

To be eligible for IFSS, you just need to be at least 16 years of age by the start of the program, and a US citizen or permanent resident. While the program is completely free, because of this it only accepts local students who can manage their own transportation and accommodation. Stanford also highly encourages you to apply if you’re a prospective first-generation to college/low-income (FLI) student.


How does the application process work?

The application form is due by May 1st, and decisions will be announced on May 15th. While the form is self evident, make sure you have the following key details ready:

  • Personal and school information.

  • Your weighted GPA.

  • Three essays of 250 words each:

  • Your interest in chemistry.

  • Your professional and academic goals and the steps you’ve taken to achieve them.

  • How does IFSS help you achieve your goals?


Is it prestigious?

Participating in IFSS is not just about gaining lab experience, it's about working with dedicated researchers to understand scientific inquiry and innovation. Stanford is one of the most notable institutions in the world, and its Chemistry department is no less in its prestige. You will get to learn from Nobel laureates and some of the smartest researchers in the country. Stanford selects only those participants who demonstrate a keen interest in science and research, making this a prestigious and exclusive opportunity in its own right. While this is somewhat offset by their preference of restricting the program to local students, if you get in, you will still be greatly benefiting from the solid foundation and network IFSS provides​.


8 reasons to apply

  1. Hands-on research experience: You will get a first-hand look at real scientific research across multiple sub-fields and learn directly from experts.

  2. Mentorship from experts: You will gain guidance and insights from Stanford's esteemed faculty and graduate students. The program’s structure also ensures that you work with multiple experts and not just one or two.

  3. Academic enrichment: IFSS is an excellent opportunity to enhance your understanding of chemistry and its real-world applications.

  4. Networking opportunities: If you want to pursue higher studies or even a career in research, you can’t go wrong with having exposure to Stanford’s faculty and students. IFSS is a great opportunity to connect with leading professionals, present or future, in the field.

  5. Prestigious addition to your resume: Participating in a program like IFSS highlights your commitment to STEM, and adds the additional prestige of attending a program at Stanford to your profile.

  6. Exploration of career pathways: IFSS is also a great way to learn about various careers in science directly from professionals.

  7. Development of critical thinking: As you work with different researchers across multiple projects, you will be challenged to intelligently apply your theoretical knowledge to the projects that you will be observing. While you won’t be directly working on the projects yourself, this exposure is still important for expanding your ability to think critically and connect theory to practice.

  8. Preparation for college: The researchers that you’ll be working with are themselves graduates at Stanford. Through this exposure, you will get to understand what an academic future in STEM is like, and experience a taste of college life and studies by proxy.

The IFSS program at Stanford is a solid opportunity to immerse yourself in the world of scientific research and connect with a community of scholars and scientists. While it’s limited in duration and accessibility, if you’re a local student and especially from an economically disadvantaged background but passionate about STEM, you should strongly consider applying.



One other option - Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you’re interested in pursuing research in STEM, you could also consider applying to one of the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs, selective online high school programs for students I 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.


Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students. Last year, we had 150 students on full need-based financial aid!


Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.


Image Source: Stanford logo

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