I'm a Chemical Engineering major in undergrad, and I currently have two internship offers this summer.

The first one is a 10 week summer research internship at a top-10 program in petroleum and chemical engineering. The internship concludes with a poster presentation of the work you've done. My work here could potentially turn into a publication. It's worth noting that I've technically already accepted this position. I didn't get the offer for the next one until after I had accepted this one.

The second offer is a full summer semester research internship at the uni I currently attend. I'd be working on the research I'm doing now all summer; as a result, I'd almost certainly be published by the end of the summer, possibly twice since my PI has a couple of papers that just need one more topic covered before they get fully published. It's worth noting that this internship would get me almost twice as much money by the end of it.

My question is: which should I take? I have a very good shot at the Goldwater next year, so I need to know if it would be better to be published, or to have a letter of rec/research experience at a top university.

I'm also meeting with my PI next week to see if I could possibly postpone the one at my school to next summer, so I'd have a chance at doing both.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

  • 1
    Welcome to Academia.SE. I just wanted to point out I've edited your question to remove the personally identifying information (which schools you have offers to, and are attending).
    – aeismail
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 17:49
  • Welcome to AC.sx. As your question stands of know, it is not really clear how it relates to academia. Which internship to take really will depend on your future goals. The problem I see is that including your future goals then would make this question very specific to you (see localized in the <academia.stackexchange.com/faq faq>. Please consider editing your question to make it both on-topic and broadly of interest.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Jan 28, 2013 at 11:16

1 Answer 1


This is a situation not many people find themselves in—having to choose between several very good options.

The basic issues to ask yourself are the following:

  • Do you have enough high-quality letters of recommendation for your future needs? If you're doing fellowships, you will definitely need three, and may need four. Again, these should be people who can comment on your abilities beyond simply just reciting grades in lectures. These must be people you have had an ongoing working relationship with. Ideally this is a full-time research mentor, but realistically also can include people such as part-time research mentors (such as REU-like work during the semester), instructors for whom you've worked as a teaching assistant, industrial employers (for an internship), and possibly your academic advisor (if it's someone who's advised you for multiple years).

  • Regarding the letter writers: are they all at the same institution? If so, then it might behoove you to find one at another institution. This will be helpful to you, as it shows you're not just a "system" product.

  • Is the research that you're doing something that you know you want to do, or just think you want to do? You will in general be more likely to have real success if you enjoy the work you want to do.

  • Will the pay for the "away" program be sufficient to cover your living expenses and needs? If so, then you should neglect the difference in pay between the two programs, and focus on the relative benefits of the two programs for you.

There's no right answer to this question; you just have to choose which option is easier for you to live with.

  • Thanks, I think I'll go with the top 10 program, because I could definitely use some more letters of recommendation. Publication can come later if it needs to. I think it might be better to build a good foundation (letters and experience) before moving onto something like publication.
    – user5724
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 18:41
  • Don't misunderstand my points above: publications can be very useful. But a very good letter from a "known" name is probably more valuable than a co-author credit on a publication. (Not to mention—it might open doors for you at the other school, too!)
    – aeismail
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 20:09
  • In the first bullet point, I would change every "should" to must. Your letters must address more than your grades, and they must be from people you've actually worked with.
    – JeffE
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 21:15
  • @JeffE: I agree with you on the second point, but the first point is out of the applicant's control.
    – aeismail
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 21:55
  • 1
    @aiesmail: No it isn't. The student can ask point-blank "Are you willing to write a strong recommendation letter that describes more than my performance in class?"
    – JeffE
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 23:18

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