Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Summer Research Opportunities
headline bar

Attention high school and college students! The Plains Area has the following research opportunities for the summer of 2016 in the following locations: 

••       Colorado:Fort Collins

••       Kansas:  Manhattan

••       Nebraska: Clay Center

••       North Dakota:  Grand Forks, Fargo

••       South Dakota: Brookings

••       Oklahoma:  Woodward

••       Texas:  Bushland,Lubbock



These internships provide hands-on learning experiences in lab and field research with the Agricultural Research Service, an agency with the US Department of Agriculture.  Interns work side by side with a mentor scientist and a research team.  Starting and ending dates are determined by the mentor scientist in consultation with the selected intern. The duration of each appointment is eight weeks of full time work, generally starting in mid-late May or early June.  Interns will have the opportunity to present their research results to the research unit at the conclusion of the internship.


How to Apply:

Email the mentor scientist listed in the job description and state your interest in the position.  NOTE: Your email address will be the first thing potential employers will notice about you - it is best to use an email address that includes your name or initials and not one that is provocative or "cute" or may have a double meaning. 


The locations, research units, name and contact information for mentor scientists (PhD research scientists) and a brief description of the internship can be found below:



Where: ColoradoFort Collins, Colorado, Rangeland Resources Research Unit

Pay: $13.92/hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. Lauren Porensky; 

Preferred/Required Experience/Education of Applicant:

Must have at least one year of college. Some knowledge of principles of ecology and rangeland management are required. Skill in using computers for word processing and data entry is required. Communication skills to follow directions precisely and produce positive interactions with diverse stakeholders, research personnel, and the general public are required. Experience or coursework in plant ecology, plant identification, grazing management, and monitoring and assessment are preferred. Knowledge of semiarid rangeland ecosystems and livestock management and nutrition are preferred.


Project Description:

Since 2012, the Rangeland Resources Research Unit has led a multi-institution, interdisciplinary experiment focused on collaborative Adaptive Grazing Management (AGM) for semiarid rangelands. This project is part of the Long-Term Agro-ecosystem Research (LTAR) network and addresses decision-making by a diverse stakeholder group (ranchers; public and state land managers; and conservation/environmental non-government organizations). Cattle diet selection is a key influence on production and conservation objectives in this novel study.  To complement ongoing measurements of cattle distribution patterns, diet quality and animal energy use, the college-level intern is needed to take direct measurements of cattle diet selectivity in different grazing management treatments by measuring tiller defoliation of key forage plants (such as western wheatgrass, a highly preferred grass) throughout the grazing season in permanently marked plots.

This project will be managed primarily by the intern with mentoring from Dr. Porensky.


Where: KansasManhattan, KS, Stored Product Insect & Engineering Research Unit

Pay: $12.32/hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. Daniel Brabec,

Preferred/Required Experience/Education of Applicant:

Must have one year of college.  An interest in agricultural engineering or grain science is preferred. The person needs to be a diligent and meticulous worker with an interest in learning.  Some computer experience is useful, especially the use of word processing and spreadsheet programs.


Project Description:

This project will provide the summer intern an opportunity to conduct research analyzing grain quality and take a targeted research project from experimental design, through data collection, to analysis and presentation and also have an opportunity to work with a variety of different instrumentation. The central project will involve the determination of a fundamental measurement important in evaluation of grain quality which is moisture content.  Moisture meters are available and they can generally provide moisture measurements.  When a more accurate measure of grain moisture is needed, it requires the grinding, weighing, and drying the sample in an oven and weighing again.  A standard oven moisture procedure is given by the American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACC).  This method specifies that a fine screen be used while grinding cereal grains like wheat. Recent work with popcorn has shown that the fine screen does not work well.  Popcorn is larger and would grind slowly.  Longer grinding time increased the chance measurement error by product drying before weighing.  Thus, a coarser screen was necessary to increase product flow.  Further research is needed to determine how screen size impacts the determination of moisture content for popcorn as well for wheat. In this project, popcorn and wheat at a range of moisture levels will be evaluated using the AACC method with both the fine screen and coarse screen and the results compared to other methods of moisture estimation. 

The summer intern, under the supervision of the mentor, will be responsible for developing the experimental design, collecting the data, and statistically analyzing the results.


Where: NebraskaClay Center, NE - Reproduction Research Unit

Pay: $12.32/hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. Brittney Keel,

Preferred/Required Experience/Education of Applicant:

Applicants for this position should be interested in and have taken coursework that encompasses at least two of the following: biology, genetics, mathematics, statistics, and computer science. Applicants should also be willing to learn basic computer programming and how to use DNA information to improve livestock genetics.


Project Description:

The student will be responsible for investigating copy number variations (CNV) regions in the genome sequence of USMARC swine. In the first two weeks, the student will become familiar with CNV detection methodology and learn to use computational and statistical tools that have been developed for CNV identification. In the remaining six weeks, the student will (1) detect CNV in individual swine genome sequences, (2) compare CNV across samples to identify those that are most prevalent in the population, (3)  identify swine genes that are affected by CNV, and (4) investigate parent-offspring inheritance patterns of CNV. In addition to these experiment specific activities, the student will help with other ongoing projects at USMARC as time permits. The student will be included in the USMARC intern program, which provides regularly scheduled presentations regarding ongoing work of the research units at USMARC. As part of this program, the student will participate in an intern symposium at the end of the summer, where they will present the results of their work done at USMARC.



Where: North DakotaFargo, ND, Insect Genetics and Biochemistry Unit

Pay: $12.32/hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. Joe Rinehart,

Preferred/Required Experience/Education of Applicant:

A successful candidate should be at least a college sophomore in good standing, and have completed core courses in the biological sciences (such as introductory biology).  Additional coursework, such as general physiology is preferred. 

Project Description:

The intern would conduct a series of experiments assessing the post-storage quality of the alfalfa leaf cutting bee, an alternative pollinator essential to the production of alfalfa seed and other agricultural products throughout North America.  The ARS Insects Unit in Fargo, North Dakota has developed enhanced protocols that greatly improves the survival of these insects during cold storage.  However, lingering questions concerning the quality of stored insects have hindered widespread commercial use of these protocols.  The intern will address one key component of bee quality after storage: how storage during development affects the stress tolerance of the resultant adults.  Bees will be stored for 1-4 weeks under traditional and enhanced cold storage protocols, with unstored bees used as controls.  Once bees have been returned to normal temperatures and adult bees have emerged, they will be subjected to a series of heat and cold exposures (including ecologically relevant temperatures), and survival will be recorded immediately and 24 hours after their return to normal temperatures.


Where: North DakotaFargo, ND, Animal Metabolism-Agricultural Chemicals Research and Insect Genetics and Biochemistry Units

Pay: $12.32/hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. David J. Smith,

Preferred/Required Experience/Education of Applicant:

Must have one year of college and have completed core courses in the chemical and biological sciences (such as introductory chemistry and biology).  Additional chemical and biological coursework is preferred. 


Project Description:

The intern will conduct a series of experiments to test the efficacy of chlorine dioxide (ClO2) gas for killing chalkbrood, a fungal pathogen that infects honey bees and the alfalfa leaf cutting bee (ALCB), both critical pollinators of North American food and forage crops.  The proposed internship will support the missions of the Animal Metabolism-Agricultural Chemicals Unit  and Insect Genetics and Biochemistry Units to reduce the negative impacts of chemicals in food animal systems and products and to enhance the quality of pollinating insects through improved storage protocols.  The research also contributes to priorities set forth in the national Pollinator Research Action Plan. In addition to regular mentoring by Drs. Smith and Rinehart, the intern will be paired with a graduate student or NDSU faculty member for day-to-day guidance.  The intern will also be a member of the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Biological Sciences annual Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.  Members of this program attend weekly professional development workshops, participate in weekly lab group meetings, and participate in cohort building activities.  The intern will also give a midterm "chalk talk" presentation to the group, and the REU program culminates in a campus-wide poster symposium.


Where: North DakotaGrand Forks, ND,  Dietary Prevention of Obesity-Related Disease

Pay: $12.32/hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. Lin Yan;


Preferred/Required Experience/Education of Applicant:

Must have at least one year of college with a major in life/biological science or related major, GPA 3.75 and a keen interest in scientific research. 

Project Description:.

The objective of this project is to investigate the effects of time-restricted feeding on high-fat diet-enhanced breast tumorigenesis.  This research uses a transgenic MMTV-PyMT mouse model that spontaneously develops breast cancer and metastasizes to lungs.  The advantages of the model are that (1) it is closely similar to human breast cancer and is characterized by a gradual loss of estrogen and progesterone receptors as the disease progresses and (2) it allows us to study both primary breast tumor and its metastasis.


The student is expected to work closely with the mentor and lab staff, actively participate in experiments and review literature related to the project.  The student will learn the skills of caring and using small animals for research, data collection and analysis, and reporting results.  By the end of the project, the student is expected to gain experience in planning and conducting research on diet and cancer prevention.  At the completion of the internship, the student will provide an oral presentation of the project and a written presentation for the mentor.




Where: North DakotaGrand Forks, ND,  Healthy Body Weight Research Unit

Pay: $12.32/hour                                                                                                      

Mentor Scientist: Dr. Shanon Casperson,


Preferred/Required Experience/Education of Applicant:

No previous experience will be necessary; however, some course work in kinesiology or psychology would be preferred.


Project Description:

This pilot project will investigate the ability of an implicit priming (IP) paradigm to decrease sedentary behavior, particularly sitting time. The general hypothesis is that this conditioning approach will reduce total daily sitting time in sedentary individuals. Eligible participants will be randomly assigned to a control or primed intervention group and complete a pre/post study with 4 main phases: 1) 7-day baseline sitting time monitoring, 2) study visit 1 (pre-intervention sedentary and physical activity liking ratings, relative reinforcing value (RRV)  task, IP intervention task, and post-intervention sedentary and physical activity liking ratings), 3) 7-day sitting time monitoring, 4) study visit 2 (sedentary and physical activity liking ratings, RRV task, and debriefing). This work is aligned with Project 3062-51000-051-00D, Objective 1: Identify psychological and physiological processes and factors that influence the motivation to exercise and to eat.

The intern will complete IRB-mandated CITI training and will be responsible for recruiting and scheduling participants, and conducting experimental procedures.

The intern will be responsible for finalizing the IP task which consist of a series of images that are primed with images meant to elicit disgust (paired with sedentary activities) or good feelings (paired with active activities). No priming images will be used for the control group. To ensure active attention, participants will identify each image as active or sedentary. 


Where: OklahomaWoodward, OK,  Range and Pasture Research Unit

Pay: $10.05/hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. Corey Moffet,


Preferred/Required Experience/Education of Applicant:

This is for high school students (including 2016 graduates) who have knowledge of biology, physics and mathematics; hence the intern would need to have completed most of their science and math classes in high school. 


Project Description:

The objective of this experiment is to determine the effect of patch burning on forage quality.  The experiment will compare three burn/grazing conditions.  The first treatment will be from a broadcast burn system where entire pastures are burned every 4 years with the last burn being more than 3 years ago, the next two treatments will be from patch burned systems where one quarter of the pasture is burned each year, the first being most recently burned and the other being last burned more than 3 years ago.

Bi-weekly throughout the experiment, the intern, with the help of a technician and mentor, will scan standing forage in each of the treatment areas using a multispectral radiometer and collect forage samples for quality analysis.  The intern, with help from a technician, will learn how to dry, weigh, prepare samples for analysis and perform forage quality analysis.  The measurements will be used to calibrate spectral data for estimating forage quality.  The intern, with the mentor's help, will learn how to convert the raw multispectral radiometer data to reflectance data and how to calibrate the reflectance date to forage quality attributes.


Where: South DakotaBrookings, SD -Integrated Cropping Systems Research

Pay: $10.05/hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. Shannon Osborne, 


Preferred/Required Experience/Education of Applicant:


No specific experience is required, just a desire to learn about the scientific method and participate in all aspects of a field and laboratory research project. 


Project Description:

Soil is fundamental to plant and animal life, and proper management is essential.  One of the key tools to maintain our soil is diversity both below and above ground.  Diversity is an important concept in all areas of our lives, from the food we eat, to the weather we experience. The soil and the organisms that live within the soil are no different: Our soils are living ecosystems that must have a diversity of food to thrive.   

In this project, we aim to educate a promising high school student on the importance of this natural resource and how we can positively impact its ability to function for further generations.  During the eight week internship, the student will be involved in many aspects of an experiment to evaluate the impact of increasing crop diversity on soil health, specifically soil biological activity and its ability to promote crop growth. The experimental hypothesis is that soil health indicators will be improved in a diversified crop rotation compared to the traditional corn/soybean rotation when all are maintained under no-till soil management.  The student will be assisting in collecting soil samples weekly throughout the growing season in three specific crop rotations: (a) a 2yr corn/soybean rotation common to our region, (b) a 4yr crop rotation corn/pea/winter wheat/soybean rotation, and (c) a 4yr corn/oat/winter wheat/soybean rotation.  The student will assist in preparing samples for analysis and in measuring microbial biomass activity through specific enzymes, water extractable inorganic and organic nitrogen and carbon.


Where: TexasLubbock, TX, Plant Stress & Germplasm Development Unit, Cropping Systems Research Laboratory

Pay: $12.32/hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. Gloria B. Burow,

Preferred/Required Experience/Education of Applicant:

Must have one year of college. It is preferred that student will have completed and passed Biology and Genetics courses. 


Project Description:

Sorghum is a resilient grain crop, serving a wide variety of applications including; as staple food, source materials for specialty food products, and animal feeds.  To this end, it is vital to understand how to boost yield even under challenging conditions and it is recognized that an important limitation to grain yield of sorghum is that of small seed size. 

The summer project is for a student to learn and experience research with a dynamic sorghum genetics/genomics program and be mentored jointly by post-doctoral associate and research scientist. Generally, the student will assists in evaluating a backcross1-F2 (BC1_F2) large seed population for gene of interest with emphasis on single nucleotide polymorphism assay.  The student will be assigned to read 3-5 articles on sorghum, genetics and genomics for background studies. The student will be involved and provided experience in sorghum agronomy, self-pollination and bagging for pure line development and emasculation for cross pollination in the field and in polyhouse. The student will be trained in basic laboratory techniques including (but not limited to); genomic DNA extraction, DNA quantification, agarose gel analysis, basic DNA sequence analysis (& basic use of genome database), polymerase chain reaction(PCR) and single nucleotide polymorphism(SNP) analysis. The student is expected to conduct goodness of fit; chi-square analysis.  The student will be responsible for data recording using both ARS official notebook and Word and Excel software. The student is expected to provide a 5 page summary report and give a 20-30 oral report on accomplishments at the end of the internship (2nd week of August).


Where: TexasBushland, Texas, Soil and Water Management Research Unit

Pay: $12.32/hour

Mentor Scientist: Dr. Gary Marek,  

Preferred/Required Experience/Education of Applicant:

Must have at least one year of college. Although no prior experience is required, experience with data processing and Microsoft Excel and ArcGIS is preferred.


Project Description:

The intern will calculate and compare average-based and probability exceedance-based ETo values for historical weather data from multiple weather stations located across the Texas Panhandle. The project includes weather data from 18 weather stations and spans more than 25 years. Using the processed data, the student will create summary ETo maps using GIS software that illustrate the spatial and temporal distribution of daily ETo for the Texas Panhandle Region. Resulting data will be used as inputs in the Texas A&M-Amarillo (TAMA) irrigation demand estimation model by researchers. Model outputs will provide an improved level of expected irrigation demand, associated conservation impacts, and economic implications of regional management strategies. This information is valuable to local, regional and state water planners and water policy personnel.

In addition to data processing activities, the student will become familiar with the operation and maintenance of meteorological sensors used in agricultural research. The student will be exposed to pertinent agricultural research topics and projects at the USDA-ARS CPRL. The student will also participate in periodic meetings with the SY to provide updates on project progress. The student may also attend other related SWMRU unit meetings.

Additional questions can be directed to:


Jessica Loggins -
ARS Outreach, Diversity, and Equal Opportunity Program Manager
950 College Station Road
Athens, GA 30605-3632

Telephone: (706) 546-3614

Last Modified: 8/13/2016
Footer Content Back to Top of Page