The VIPER Research Experience: Structure & Policy

Ongoing research experience in Penn’s science and engineering laboratories is fundamental to the strength of the VIPER curriculum.  

Students accepted into VIPER are expected to complete a minimum of two summers of research on campus at Penn, under the guidance and supervision of a Penn faculty member. This VIPER research experience is separate from the capstone energy design/research project which must be completed by all VIPER students for their respective majors in the School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS). 

One of the two mandatory summers of VIPER research must occur following the end of a student’s freshman year at Penn, after his or her completion of the introductory spring seminar VIPR120.

Each summer VIPER research experience consists of 12 weeks of student involvement, for no less than 40 hours per week. Moreover, the research effort in the laboratory should be comparable to that of a graduate student. To support students in meeting this academic requirement, VIPER provides a stipend to cover living expenses. 

VIPER students who plan only two summers of Penn research are expected to complete two regular academic semesters of independent study research in the fall or spring semesters. This research should be undertaken for academic credit (1 c.u. per semester), under the formal supervision of Penn faculty.

For a VIPER student to engage less than 12 weeks of research in any given summer session, the student must receive permission from his or her research mentor and the VIPER leadership. Depending on the number of weeks not completed toward the 12-week requirement, the student may be required to complete a semester of independent study research in the following fall semester for 1 c.u. of academic credit.

Students who complete three summers of Penn research are not required to complete independent study research for formal credit in the regular (fall or spring) academic semesters. However, due to VIPER’s emphasis on student engagement of research as a core building block of the program’s science and engineering curriculum, students are strongly encouraged to stay involved in research laboratories on campus during the fall and spring terms – via informal or voluntary activities or per the discretion of the student’s research mentor. A student who does undertake the third summer research experience at Penn may, at the discretion of VIPER faculty and staff and the student’s research mentor, receive 1 c.u. of academic credit.

As VIPER students proceed through the curriculum during their years at Penn and engage successive research experiences on campus, they are encouraged to remain involved with their original lab and research group, in order to build expertise and depth of knowledge. However, should the student and/or research mentor prefer not to continue with the arrangement, the student must take the initiative to identify a new Penn laboratory for research involvement.

In identifying a mentor and lab group for upcoming summer or regular semester research experiences, VIPER students are expected to submit written proposals (identifying a Penn research mentor and campus lab group, an energy-relevant science or engineering topic, and a timeline for the student’s involvement) to program faculty and staff at least 6 weeks before the end of the current term/summer session. Final approval of student proposals must be given by VIPER’s faculty co-directors, in order for research experiences to be confirmed and finalized between a student and his/her mentor. Following the completion of a student’s summer- or regular semester-based research experience, each student should meet with one of VIPER’s faculty co-directors to review the student’s performance and contributions within the larger project.

These requirements are subject to revision per the discretion of VIPER faculty and staff.