Admissions Blog: How I got paid to do summer research (and you can, too)

Posted on November 02, 2018 by Courtney Nelson ’20

Courtney Nelson Courtney Nelson ’20 presents her summer research at the Southwestern Social Science Association’s annual meeting in Orlando.

If you take nothing else away from this article, at least take away one piece of advice: Do summer research! I spent eight weeks at Texas A&M University this summer doing research for sociology, and it was a life-changing experience. Not only did I have an amazing time, but I was getting paid, as well.

The research was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation through a program called the Research Experience for Undergraduates. Research opportunities can be found at institutions across the country in a wide range of subject areas, including engineering, chemistry, earth sciences, social, behavioral and economic sciences, and more!

I heard about the program through a Sweet Briar professor, who encouraged me to apply. When I was accepted, he was just as excited as I was and extremely supportive. He went on to serve as my home institution mentor.

Going into the program, I was nervous because I knew it was going to be challenging and rigorous work. In the end, I emerged with a new outlook. It was empowering to learn how to research, use data analysis programs, write a research paper, and prepare a presentation. It was life-changing because it changed my goals and has pushed me to work even harder to prepare for graduate school. Along the way, there were many frustrated moments and long nights. However, I had the support of my home institution mentor and the program mentors, as well as my cohort because they were going through the same challenges. Ultimately, I was left with a feeling of pride: My analysis provided actual results and I could explain how I reached my conclusions.

Courtney in Orlando Courtney at the conference in Orlando

All participants receive a stipend and most programs pay for housing and travel expenses. This makes the experience a win-win situation. You get to do original research and you get paid to do it. Through the program, we also had the incredible opportunity to present our research at a conference in which housing, travel and conference expenses were paid for. A few weeks ago, I presented my research at the 98th annual meeting of the Southwestern Social Science Association in Orlando, Fla.

Overall, the program was such a rewarding experience. I was able to travel and see new places, network and advance my love of sociology through engaging research. The program also focused on graduate school preparation and the program mentors provided insider information on the grad school experience. This was another reason I loved my experience: it made me reconsider post-undergraduate options I had previously disregarded. I am now planning to apply to graduate school and feel prepared and excited. Receiving a stipend was truly a bonus to the countless benefits I received by participating in this program.

Ultimately, this experience was incomparable to anything I have ever done. To fully understand it, though, you’ll have to see for yourself. I would do it again in an instant!

Learn more about academics at Sweet Briar at

Did you know every Sweet Briar student can apply for up to $2,000 to fund research, internships or other academic endeavors? Learn more about our Grants for Engaged Learning.

Courtney Nelson
Courtney Nelson ’20 is a sociology and environmental studies double major from Midlothian, Va . She is on the varsity soccer team and is president of the Student-athlete Advisory Committee and junior class president in the Student Government Association. She is a member of the tap clubs Earphones, Aint’s ‘n’ Asses and BAM.