Helpful Hints for Successful REU Sites
- Be sure to correspond with the accepted students frequently and regularly prior to their arrival at your institution. Connect the faculty mentors and students as soon as possible. This communication will energize the students and help avoid “no-shows.”
- Make sure there is a written agreement shared and signed by students defining conditions of the REU stipend, explaining forms of payment, any charges or cost, travel reimbursement and living arrangements.
- Meet with all the faculty and graduate student mentors that will interact with the REU students prior to the start of the REU program. Express the expectations of the program, need for excellent mentorship, the time-line of the program, and the weekly activities in which the REU students will participate. Remind the faculty of the need to acknowledge the NSF/CHE grant in all publications and presentations.
- Follow up regularly with students, the faculty and grad student/postdoc mentors throughout the program.
- Distribute a calendar of events during your orientation meeting with the students. The calendar of events will convey the level of planning effort that was expended on your REU program, and the students will respond accordingly.
- An orientation meeting when the students arrive on campus is necessary. Many students are unfamiliar with REU programs and will have numerous questions. Providing extensive information up front will ease confusion and make them feel welcome.
- Excellent time to initiate tracking of students. Use the NSF/LG website (chemnsfreu.com), LinkedIn, or other mechanism for tracking. Maintain regular contact with former REU participants, and they will remain connected to your program. Often your best REU recruiters are former REU students.
- Notify the students about the specific paperwork they will need for human resources. To prevent long delays in delivery of the first paychecks, try to complete all of the payroll paperwork prior to the students’ arrival or on the first day.
- Dorm check-in, travel reimbursement procedures, the meal plan, the dress code, etc.
- Mandatory safety training is important to have before the students enter the laboratory.
- Organize social activities early and frequently in the program. Social activities that occur in the first few days of the program are most effective in encouraging the students to build friendships.
- Learn the students’ names ASAP.
- Expressing expectations is important. Be sure to outline your expectations clearly for the REU students during your orientation meeting. For example, include specific expectations about the range of hours that a student should work, laboratory responsibilities, the flexibility of their time, vacation policies, ability to work with others, deliverables at the end of the summer, and the need to acknowledge the NSF/CHE grant in all publications and presentations, etc.
- Make sure a desk space is available for each student so that they feel like respected researchers in the program, not just transient visitors.
- Get your best senior undergraduates or graduate students involved in aspects of the REU program. These students are often your best ambassadors for your institution.
- You will need to correspond with the REU students frequently during the program (to send seminar reminders, meeting reminders, etc.), so make sure to obtain good e-mail addresses for all of them.
- Assess whether the REU students are being properly integrated into their research projects and labs. Have a session early in the summer in which the students describe their projects via short (three minute) talks. This is a great way to ensure a successful summer experience for all participants.
- Consider using a course management program as a central clearinghouse for information for the students. This permits easy information exchange without students trying to track each other down in distributed laboratories. For this to work, you must provide regular new content so that students check it regularly.
- It is great to take advantage of activities and events taking place across campus, but be sure to have signature REU events that establish the program's identity.
- Consider involving students in post-program activities. In particular, group reunions at professional meetings are a great way to advertise your program, while emphasizing to the students the magnitude of their summer accomplishments. Note that these need not be restricted to national ACS meetings. There are other options including regional ACS meetings and specialty meetings that might be appropriate to your site.
- Encourage REU students to attend a regional or national ACS meeting.
- Establish a contact person (often a faculty member) with each undergraduate program for which you have recruited REU students. This contact person can assist in encouraging former REU students to attend conferences and in maintaining a recruiting pipeline.
How do REU Sites leverage resources/funds from other sources?
While cost sharing is strictly prohibited by NSF proposal guidelines, most programs benefit from sharing resources with other programs or using existing facilities and support provided by their institution. Most institutions have a mechanism for providing the site directors with part of the indirect costs taken from the grant.
Some examples of how different sites have provided better programming for their participants by leveraging resources are:
- Negotiating for no-cost administrative assistant support
- Support for additional students from other university sources (non-REU participants who still take part in all research and programming)
- Partial salary support for REU Director (with attention to federal effort reporting issues)
- Materials and supplies for REU program and Mentors
- Discount or financial support for REU students' housing, tuition, and food
- Local travel, social events, and travel to other conferences for students
- Cost for inviting speakers for the REU program
- Cost for evaluation
- Cost for publication, web-mastering and website hosting, and other administrative toolkit (application, surveys, tracking) tools
- Combining event planning/hosting with other summer research programs
- Using resources at nearby institutions for programming (Career planning, NIH Prep, Scientific presentation, etc.)
Some sites have also had success fostering relationships with local industry. This can include instrument time, scholarships, mentoring, site visits, and social event support. You will want to speak with your development office for leads and institutional guidelines for establishing such partnerships.
There are also other programs that seek research placements for students who come with funding from those sources. AMGEN Scholars, LS-AMP Scholars, and others may be seeking opportunities that you can provide with minimal cost to the NSF and which will enable you to serve a larger or more diverse group of students.
There is also the possibility of receiving supplemental funding for special programming, such as opportunistic travel or experiences. Contact your program officer for more information.
UUndergraduates benefit from research experiences, and good mentoring contributes to these gains. [1, 2] A summary of the current literature on the impact of undergraduate research on students has recently been published by the Council on Undergraduate Research.  NSF REU student participants who were asked about how to improve undergraduate research programs suggested increased and more effective faculty guidance, enthusiasm for mentoring, and mentors with an ability to help students develop interesting and doable projects. Some respondents suggested that mentors receive training or that mentoring guidelines be established. 
Holding a workshop or meetings for mentors can be helpful in preparing them to work with undergraduates in research as well as keeping the mentors informed regarding the expectations for students and mentors participating in the program. Your specific situation and prior experience of your mentors will govern the format for these sessions. Some programs have faculty as mentors and some programs have graduate students or post-docs that serve as the research mentors for the undergraduates. Your mentor training sessions might be more focused on providing information for the mentors on aspects of the program or they may provide professional development training for mentors to learn how to effectively mentor undergraduate students. If you have more experienced mentors involved, you might have an informal information session with faculty sharing their experiences working with undergraduates. If you have less experienced mentors involved, a more formal set of workshops should be considered.
These workshops may be tailored for faculty members or for postdoctoral and graduate student supervisors. Jo Handelsman, Christine Pfund, Sarah Miller Lauffer, and Christine Maidl Pribbenow developed a mentoring workshop as part of The Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching. The template for this workshop can be found at the HHMI website.  This particular syllabus is designed for an eight-session seminar, but materials can be adapted for different structures. The included case studies are an engaging way of drawing workshop participants into a discussion of relevant mentoring issues. A panel of experienced mentors answering questions from an audience can also be an effective component of a one-session workshop.
Some issues for future mentors to consider are listed below.
- How have I been mentored? Has it been effective?
- What makes a good research project?
- What skills does an undergraduate student bring, and what skills need to be developed?
- Have I articulated my expectations for the work schedule, lab notebook, ethical conventions, and project reporting to the student?
- Can I accommodate students with different working styles, backgrounds, and goals within my research setting?
- Are the roles and responsibilities of the faculty member, graduate student (if relevant), and undergraduate clear to all involved?
- When can I trust the undergraduate’s results?
- How independently can I expect the undergraduate student to function?
- What should I do if the undergraduate is not meeting my expectations?
- How will I know if my mentee is experiencing problems, either related or unrelated to research?
- How should I handle conflict between the undergraduate and other members of the group?
- Are there special issues to consider when the undergraduate is a transient, who will only be there for the summer?
- Hunter, A.B., S.L. Laursen, and E. Seymour, Becoming a scientist: The role of undergraduate research in students' cognitive, personal, and professional development. Science Education, 2007. 91(1): p. 36-74.
- Russell, S.H., M.P. Hancock, and J. McCullough, The pipeline - Benefits of undergraduate research experiences. Science, 2007. 316(5824): p. 548-549.
- Crowe, M. and D. Brakke, Assessing the Impact of Undergraduate Research Experiences on Students: An Overviewof Current Literature. Council on Undergraduate Research Quarterly, 2008. 28(4): p. 43-50.
- Russell, S.H., M.P. Hancock, and J. McCullough. Evaluation of NSF Support for Undergraduate Research Opportunities: Follow-up Survey of Undergraduate NSF Program Participants. 2006.
- Handelsman, J., et al. Entering Mentoring. A Seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists. Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching 2005 Available from: http://www.hhmi.org/resources/labmanagement/downloads/entering_mentoring.pdf.
REU Participant Payment Ideas
There is not a standard process for paying REU students, and the best choice will depend on institutional rules and regulations. The only truly universal “best practice” is to begin this process early with your HR/administration/budget officer, so that students will receive their remuneration on time. The NSF requires that payments be made to participants at intervals over time, rather than a lump sum. You should also communicate early with your participants about their stipend and status so that their expectations are in line with what your will deliver.
Beyond that, the form of payment and specific arrangements depend strongly on the specifics of individual institution rules. Choices you make in this regard impact how your students:
- Obtain a campus ID
- Access student services such as the gym, library, dining halls, career services, laundry…etc
- Receive local email accounts
- Access parking or public transportation
- Recognition of participants as students (with student benefits), as contractor, as volunteers, and the legal standing thereof
Additionally, your choice of payment method (stipend, paycheck, fellowship, scholarship, award, ...) has financial implications, including:
- The overhead that your institution claims from your grant
- Whether payments will be made into the Affordable Care Act
- Whether taxes are withheld. Students may have to talk to their guardians or tax accountants if they are considered dependents.
Other considerations: Students may also require funds for travel and moving expenses prior to joining the program. Students will also have to bring original documents such as social security cards, passports or other forms of ID, proof of medical insurance, bank routing number to set up direct deposit.
Some REU programs offer academic credit for participation. In those cases, there may be questions of tuition and fees to be paid. Depending on the institution, these fees may be waived or reduced as institutional support.
Volunteer to Serve on an REU Review Panel
The National Science Foundation continually seeks qualified reviewers for the various grants programs they administer. Review of REU proposals is done through a panel process. Panelists are sent a subset of the submissions in any given cycle to review. Reviewers provide written reviews in advance of the panel meeting, which could be in-person at the NSF or virtual. At the meeting, each of the proposals is discussed, after which the panel ranks them in order of priority for funding. Serving on a panel is one of the best means of learning the characteristics that are the hallmarks of the best REU proposals.
There are two common ways to be selected for a review panel. A Program Officer may be aware of an individual’s suitability to serve as a reviewer and invites her or him to participate. The other is to volunteer to serve. Program Officers are very receptive to volunteers because it indicates a strong commitment and interest to a particular program. Obviously PIs of REU sites are likely candidates for service on an REU panel, although the panels are not large enough to involve every PI. Therefore, even if you are a PI, it is still useful to volunteer to serve on the review panel. Service on a review panel can be especially helpful to individuals who have tried but failed to secure funding for an REU site. Of course, you cannot serve as a reviewer if you have a proposal pending.
More information about the review process within the Chemistry Division of NSF can be found at the following web site: https://www.nsf.gov/bfa/dias/policy/merit_review/mrfaqs.jsp
The on-line form to volunteer as a reviewer can be found at the following web site: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CHEM_NSF
Tips for Online Application Forms
- “Don’t reinvent the wheel” Ask for sample applications from other REU sites by contacting the PI or visiting their website.
- Speak with your IT Department. See if they can help you build the form or manage the output i.e. Excel, Google forms.
- Make the application form easy to navigate. Only ask for information necessary to make an informed decision. List the steps for completion on each page. (e.g., This is step 1 of 4.)
- For standard information, minimize the amount of text entry for fields. Try to use drop down boxes. This makes sorting much easier later. (For example, the field for major can be a selection from chemistry, chemistry/pre-med, chemical education, chemistry/pre-pharm. A text entry for major can result in chem, pre-med/chem, chem/pre-med, chem-premed, etc.)
- Create scripts that automatically send an email with instructions to the individuals indicated for letters of recommendation. Provide a guide for the characteristics that are important for your site (e.g., ability for independent research, plans for a graduate degree, etc.). This will help you identify the most appropriate participants for your site. Allow for both text entry and pdf uploading for letters of recommendation. It’s also nice to generate an automatic confirmation of receipt and thank you email.
- Minimize the page load time. Those high-resolution pictures of previous participants working in the lab are nice, but they can be challenging from a low-speed Internet connection.
- Include optional demographic information (gender, race, ethnicity) with a waiver. For example, "I hereby grant the NSF-REU program permission to use the above information for statistical analysis purposes only, with the provision that no personal information will be released to anyone besides those few, qualified researchers doing the statistical analysis and that these researchers will only report/publish aggregate statistics. Your willingness to participate in this statistical survey may help ensure the continued growth and vitality of this federally sponsored program.”
- Include a field on how the applicant learned about your site. This will help identify your most effective advertising techniques.
- Embed a date stamp on all applications.
Tracking REU Students
For a successful and sustainable REU program, tracking REU participants is critical. Not only can former REU participants be the most effective advocates of your program, helping you recruit new REU students, but also the status of former REU participants must be included in future REU proposal renewals and reports.
Successful REU site directors have found success using several different tools to remain in touch with former participants. If you have experienced success using other tools, please share them with the REU Leadership group so that we may update this list.
- Professional Social Media: Although social media platform preferences evolve rapidly, LinkedIn remains the platform of choice for professional interactions and networking. We strongly urge REU directors to create a LinkedIn group associated with their program, and ask participants to join that group. As the participants continue in their professional careers, they will be updating their profiles, giving you the ability to follow their progress without necessitating an email or other exchange. Additionally, having a session or workshop during your program in which your participants create or update their LinkedIn profiles is an excellent professional development activity, and could be a valuable component of the training you provide to your participants.
- E-mail network: Collect e-mail addresses from your REU participants and set up your own e-mail network to facilitate communication. Be sure to follow up with your REU students frequently with notices about activities at your school (such as recruiting visits, holiday parties, undergraduate or graduate research symposia), opportunities they could pursue (such as conferences and fellowships), and inquiries about their progress. REU students are always eager to share updates about their academic progress and professional development if they feel that you are invested in their future success.
- Informal Social Media: Learn about the preferred/trendy informal social media platforms that your participants are using. Although Facebook or Snapchat are less useful tracking tools because of the evolving nature of social media and the lack of professional personal information communicated, having your participants connect through their preferred network (and joining yourself) promotes cohort formation and makes students more likely to be responsive to your efforts to remain in contact post REU experience.
REU Program Solicitation
For more detailed information on the NSF-wide REU program, please see the REU program solicitation: NSF 13-542
Typical Timeline for Starting a New REU Program
The timeline for an individual program depends on the funding notification timeline and the nature of the REU site. A site should typically expect notification between January and March, depending on the congressional budget approval timeline and proposal pressure. Upon funding notification, PIs have the option to start their REU in the current summer or to delay the start of the program to September. Whether a PI chooses to start in April or September will depend on the existing infrastructure and the recruiting efforts that are already in place at the REU site. Here is a representative timeline for a program with a late February application due date:
Sept - Nov
Begin publicity (See Publicizing Your REU)
Open application on your website (See Application Documentation)
Make personal contacts at universities via email and flyers to increase traffic to the application site.Start spreadsheet for received applications
Continue to publicize, recruit and receive applicationsVerify housing arrangements (location dependent)Selection committee starts reviewing applications
Selection committee recommendations reviewedStart making offers until class fullCheck on the cost of parking, recreation fees, and other costs
Send out rejection lettersSend each participant an information packageMake reservations for vans, park, etc. for social events and field tripsMake rooms assignmentsMail each participant final letter with copy of each participant’s roommate information, schedule of activities for the 10 weeks, and map/directions to site
Schedule seminars and activitiesMake plans for final event (seminar/lunch/dinner)Prepare a file for each participant, PI advisor and co-mentorGet each participant setup with e-mail accounts, access to the library, campus recreational facilities, etc.
Participants arrive; begin program
Program in progress; start program assessment
Program concludes; complete program assessment
Prepare annual report