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Frequently Asked Questions About the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship Program

SULI interns created this short video to provide their top housing tips for future applicants.

For the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the most frequently asked questions are grouped into the following categories:


Q: Does NREL offer internships throughout the entire year?

A: Yes. NREL offers internships during the summer, fall, and spring terms.

Q: By participating in this program, do I become an NREL or U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) employee?

A: No. You are not an employee of DOE or NREL. The financial manager will issue your stipend, housing, and travel reimbursements.

Q: Does NREL have a dress code?

A: Yes. You are required to wear closed-toe shoes when you are working in a lab. There is one public event, a poster session, which requires business attire. Men should wear a shirt, tie, slacks, and dress shoes. Women should wear a dress blouse, skirt or dress pants, and dress shoes.

Q: Will I be allowed to park onsite?

A: Yes. Covered parking is available to you during your internship.

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Q: What if I have other commitments that prevent me from participating during part of the appointment period?

A: Participation requires a full-time commitment for the duration of the appointment period. You need to be at NREL full time and avoid obligations that will interrupt the appointment. Summer appointments are for 10 weeks, and spring and fall appointments are for 16 weeks.

Q: Is there any flexibility in start and end dates?

A: No. Appointments are for 10 weeks in the summer and 16 weeks during the fall and spring terms. NREL has set start and end dates for the SULI program.

Q: Do I have any vacation days during the appointment period?

A: No. The program does not include vacation time or sick leave. You are not expected to work on days that are laboratory closures.

Q: Do I have to prepare a report or give a presentation at the end of my appointment?

A: Yes. You will be asked to prepare a research report, in consultation with your research advisor. You will also be required to present a poster at the end of the appointment.

Q: What should I expect from the mentoring relationship at the laboratory?

A: Your research advisor should provide ongoing technical guidance and advice; appropriate materials, equipment, technical and clerical support, and office space for you to perform your research activities; and a professional and stimulating intellectual atmosphere.

Q: I don't have health insurance. Can I participate if I buy health insurance by the start of the program?

A: Yes. You must have current health insurance coverage while participating in the program.

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Q. What are the financial benefits of a SULI appointment?

A. You will receive $500 per week for 10 weeks in the summer and for 16 weeks in the fall or spring. If your permanent address is more than 50 miles from NREL you will receive $125 per week for housing. NREL will provide travel to and from the lab if your permanent address is more than 50 miles from NREL. The financial manager will make your flight arrangements; do not make your own flight arrangements.

Q. How often do I receive a stipend payment and where does it come from?

A. You will receive your monthly stipend check according to NREL's pre-arranged schedule.

Q: Can I receive my checks through direct deposit?

A: Yes. All stipend checks are direct deposit.

Q. What is my tax liability for the stipend I am paid as a participant in this program?

A: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) cannot provide tax advice. The financial manager does not report your stipends to the Internal Revenue Service. You will not receive a W-2 or a 1099. No taxes will be withheld from these payments. You should consult a tax professional with questions.

Q: What kind of travel reimbursement will I receive?

A: By Air
Please do not book flights personally. All flight arrangements will be made for you. Selected students are reimbursed for one round trip domestic travel to and from NREL (if permanent address is more than 50 miles from the NREL).Transportation expenses will be reimbursed on the basis of the most direct route.

By Auto
Travel by a private automobile will be reimbursed based on the lowest one-way commercial airfare or mileage based on the government rate, up to $250 one way, whichever is lower. Transportation expenses will be reimbursed on the basis of the most direct route. Safety is our first concern, and we do NOT encourage you to drive long distances without breaks. In past years, interns from the same general location have met at a central location and driven convoy style to Colorado.

Q: Do I need to arrange my own travel?

A: No. You will notify the financial manager about your travel dates. The financial manager will arrange and prepay for the specific flights/train/bus and reimbursement for mileage (according to DOE Travel Guidelines).

Q: Can I incorporate additional travel plans into my paid expenses to or from NREL?

A: No. Some interns have done sightseeing on their way to Colorado, but NREL will only reimburse expenses for travel on the basis of the most direct route to Golden, and then the most direct route home. Safety is our first concern, and we do NOT encourage you to drive long distances without breaks. In past years interns from the same general location have met at a central location and driven to Colorado convoy style.

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Q: Where will I live?

A: NREL does not have on-site housing. You will most likely conduct research at the main campus in Golden, but you may be at the National Wind Technology Center near Boulder. NREL provides housing information and intern contact information, but you are responsible to make your own housing arrangements. Housing options include apartments in the Denver, Golden, Lakewood, and Boulder areas. Housing can be expensive, so you may want to consider rooming with other interns to reduce your living expenses.

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College Credit and Tuition

Q: Can I receive undergraduate credit for my internship?

A: Yes, but you will need to check with your university or college to see if your research experience qualifies for college credit. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) can provide documentation if your university or college provides this option.

Q: Does the program pay any tuition costs I might incur while participating if I am taking this for college credit?

A: No. Tuition and fees incurred during your Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) appointment are not reimbursable.

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Q: Am I eligible to apply if I am a college freshman?

A: No. You must have completed at least 1 year as a matriculated student at the time of application. That is, you must have been enrolled for at least 1 year as a matriculated undergraduate student at the time of applying. Undergraduate course credits obtained before enrollment cannot be substituted.

Q: I'm enrolled in my first year as an undergraduate student, but because of undergraduate courses and AP credits before enrolling, my university has me listed as a sophomore. Am I eligible to apply?

A: No. You must have completed at least 1 year as a matriculated student at the time of application. That is, you must have been enrolled for at least 1 year as a matriculated undergraduate student in a degree program at the time of applying. Undergraduate course credits obtained before enrollment cannot be substituted.

Q: Do I have to have health insurance coverage when I apply, or can I wait until I'm selected to buy it?

A: No. You do not have to have health insurance at the time of applying, but you must have health insurance to begin your appointment.

Q: I have an undergraduate grade point average (GPA) of 2.95. Am I eligible?

A: Yes. To be eligible to apply you must have a minimum cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0. Considering significant figures, a GPA of 2.95 rounds up to a 3.0 GPA. Your GPA must be verifiable on your undergraduate transcripts.

Q: I have an undergraduate GPA of 2.93. Am I eligible?

A: No. To be eligible to apply you must have a minimum cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0. Considering significant figures, a GPA of 2.93 rounds to a 2.9 GPA.

Q: This program states that it provides opportunities to undergraduate students. If I graduate before the internship term for which I am applying, am I eligible to participate?

A: Yes. The SULI program is for undergraduates. However, if you are graduating or a recent graduate, you are eligible to apply as a graduating senior if you meet the following two conditions: (1) you have not yet started a program of graduate study and you will not matriculate as a graduate student before completing your SULI term; and (2) the time period between receiving your undergraduate degree and starting your SULI term is less than 1 year. Consider the following example: If you graduated in May 2014 you would not be eligible to apply to the 2015 summer SULI term.

Q: I'm an undergraduate student, but I won't be 18 years old for another year. If this program is for undergraduate students, can I participate?

A: No. Eighteen is the minimum age for participation regardless of education level.

Q: Can I participate if I am graduating in May/June of the current year?

A: Yes. A limited number of placements can be made to graduating seniors. You are eligible to apply to the internship up to 1 year after graduating from an undergraduate institution. Be sure to complete the section for graduating seniors on the SULI application.

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Q: When is the application deadline?

A: Visit the DOE website listing of key dates for current application deadlines.

Q: Can I transfer my previous recommendations to my new application?

A: No. Letters of recommendations cannot be transferred from previous applications or from applications created on the previous system. The recommendation letter form has changed. Visit your status page to request new recommendation forms for your recommenders.

Q: Can I reuse my essay responses from my previous application for my new application?

A: No, the essay questions have changed in the new application so you will need to write new essay responses.

Q: Do I have to click on the "Submit Application" button to complete my part of the online application before asking my recommenders to submit their recommendations online?

A: No. You can request your recommenders as soon as you begin the application by submitting the names and contact emails in the recommender section of the application. Automated emails will be sent to your recommenders with the information about how to submit a letter of recommendation on your behalf. You are responsible for ensuring that recommenders submit their recommendations online before the application deadline.

Q: I have already submitted my application but realize I made a mistake. Is there any way I can fix this?

A: No. Once you click on the "Submit Application" button to submit your application you cannot change the application content. You can still update your personal contact information and change recommenders or send reminders to recommenders.

Q: Do my recommendation letters need to be submitted by the application deadline?

A: Yes. The two required letters of recommendation must be submitted electronically by the application deadline. Recommenders must submit their letters through the online form; letters in any other form will not be accepted.

Q: Can letters of recommendation be sent by email?

A: No, recommenders must use the website form process. A URL unique to your application will be sent to the individuals you selected to submit recommendations on your behalf. Each person writing a recommendation for you will complete the online recommendation form and submit it electronically. This is the only way to ensure that your recommendations are properly linked with your application.

Q: Who should I ask to write my letters of recommendation?

A: You should request letters of recommendation from individuals who are familiar with your academic achievements and your academic or professional accomplishments. College faculty members who teach science, technology, engineering, or mathematics courses are the best references, but you may also use former high school teachers, lab assistants, teaching assistants, or employers (especially if they are in a research setting). Family members are not recommended unless you have had a formal working relationship with them.

Q: Can I delete a recommendation and replace it with another?

A: No. You cannot delete a recommendation once the online system has received it. You may request up to three recommendations for your application, but the first two that are completed in the system will be included with your application for review.

Q: Am I required to submit transcripts?

A: Yes. You are required to provide transcripts for every college or university you have attended that is listed on the DOE SULI application. You must upload a PDF copy of all undergraduate official and unofficial transcripts to the online application system. This new requirement began with the summer 2012 term. See the information on submitting transcripts on the How to Apply page.

Q: Can I submit unofficial transcripts?

A: Yes. Two forms of unofficial transcripts are acceptable to submit with your completed application:

  1. An official transcript that the university or college registrar has signed and sent to you in a sealed envelope that you have opened (and thus is unofficial). You must black out your Social Security number and date of birth and scan it before you upload it into the application system.

  2. An unofficial transcript that your college or university provides to you electronically, via either a website or email and is marked "unofficial."

PDF copies of transcripts uploaded into the system must be clearly legible, must be labeled with your name and the name of the university or college, must clearly show all courses and course grades and cumulative GPA, and must have your Social Security number and date of birth blacked out.

Transcripts that do not clearly identify your name and institution or are not legible will be considered invalid.

Q: I've scanned my official transcripts, but the electronic scan has a VOID watermark all over it. Is this a valid transcript to submit with my application?

A: Yes. If it is a scan of your official transcript, is legible, and it clearly shows your name, undergraduate institution, and GPA/grade information, it is a valid transcript.

Q: Can I contact scientists at the laboratories I've chosen? Is this advisable?

A: Yes. As you explore NREL's website, you may identify scientists, programs, or divisions you would like to contact. The more you know about a laboratory, the better chance you have of making a laboratory choice appropriate to your interests and skills.

However, potential research advisors are NOT authorized to offer you an appointment. If you are selected you must receive an official letter from the DOE Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS) online application system. This notification will be followed by an official offer letter from NREL. You must have these two items before your offer is official.

Q: Will you let me know if I am missing parts of my application?

A: Yes. The online application system will highlight the required elements of the application that have not been completed. You will not be able to submit your final application until you provide all the required elements.

Q: If I have previously participated in the SULI program, am I allowed to reapply?

A: Yes. If you have already participated in SULI once before, you are eligible to apply and participate one more time.

Q: I am a permanent resident of the United States. Am I required to provide documentation?

A: Yes. If you are accepted into the program, you will be required to provide a copy of your permanent resident status during badging.

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Q: How does the selection process work?

A: To be considered, you must meet all eligibility criteria and have submitted an application comprising all required materials. Before the merit assessment and evaluation, DOE conducts an initial review of all applications to verify your eligibility and ensure you have provided all the required application materials. If you are eligible, your application will be released to NREL. Research staff will select applicants whose skills, knowledge, and research interests best align with the research projects available to interns for the pending SULI term.

Q: How are applications judged?

A: Your application will be assessed based on your performance in completed academic coursework, especially coursework in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); strength of recommendation letters; expressed scientific interests; and your background, experience, accomplishments, and interests as they relate to NREL's research programs.

Q: Why am I asked if I have participated in any other DOE programs? Does answering yes to this question help or hurt my chances of being selected?

A: Your response to this question will not affect the selection process for your application. DOE collects this for internal information purposes only to gauge whether applicants know about or have participated in other DOE programs. SULI participants may have a maximum of two internships.

Q: What are my chances of being selected?

A: The chances of being selected depend on many factors: the total number of applications submitted, the number of applications requesting the same first- and second-choice laboratory placements, the number of available internship opportunities at each laboratory, and the availability of funds. These factors vary each year, so it is not possible to determine your chance of being selected for any given application cycle.

Q: Is this program only for natural science, engineering, mathematics, or computer science majors?

A: No. The SULI program focuses on providing STEM research internships that relevant to and supported by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) research and development programs. You are not required to major in these areas, but applicants who demonstrate education, aptitude, and interest in these fields will be most competitive.

Q: When and how will I find out if I've been selected?

A: DOE will send you an email if you are selected. The status page of your application account will also indicate that you have been selected for an internship. This will be followed by an email from NREL's Workforce Development and Education Programs Office with a more detailed offer package, including an appointment letter and other documents explaining the details of your appointment. This letter will be sent after all the interns have been selected at NREL, not when you receive the DOE notification email.

Please make sure the email address on your account is current. The date the offer period begins is provided on the Key Dates page. Check your status page frequently, because you will have only 10 calendar days to accept an offer once it has been made. You will receive only one offer during the application cycle. If you do not accept the offer, you will not receive another. NREL research advisors are not authorized to make appointment offers to you directly. Official notification must come first from DOE and then from NREL's Workforce Development and Education Programs Office.

Q: If I decline an offer from my first-choice laboratory, will I be considered by the second-choice laboratory?

A: No. You will not be extended another offer if you decline an offer.

Q: If I am not selected this time, will my application be reviewed again next year automatically?

A: No. You must reapply.

Q: If I request a certain field of study, am I guaranteed to be placed in it if I am accepted into the program?

A: No. NREL tries to match, to the extent possible, your research interests with available research projects and research advisors, but this is not always possible. Keep in mind that research advisors read the applications carefully and look for students who they think would benefit from being in their lab.

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Q: What is the funding source for this program?

A: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science provides the funding for the SULI program.

Q: How do I properly acknowledge Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS) support in publications or presentations?

A: To help maintain the accountability and accuracy of its federally mandated assessment and reporting functions, WDTS requires funded work to appropriately acknowledge its support in the presentations and publications resulting from its funding. When acknowledging WDTS support, please use the following statement:

"This work was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS) under the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program."

Q: Why is DOE involved in workforce development and education?

A: For more than 60 years, DOE has supported the education and training of scientists, engineers, and technology specialists to maintain the scientific and technical workforce needed to address DOE's and nation's complex challenges in energy, national security, the environment, and discovery science.

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For more information about internship opportunities at NREL, contact the Workforce Development and Education Programs staff.