Applying for a CERN Summer Student internship position

The summer student program is the most competitive program offered by CERN. Each year, CERN gets more than 3000 applications from students all over the world and only 260-300 get into the program. But don’t be discouraged! I believe that if I, with no experience in experimental research whatsoever, managed to get into the program, so can you. ☺

This article is structured in a way that explains what you can expect when you click that button to open the application and some of my advice.

Before you can start, there is one thing you need to check: Are you eligible to attend the school? If you are a Bachelor or Master student and will remain registered at your university during your stay at CERN, then perfect – you are eligible to apply!

Next, you’ll need to find out if the country you are from is a member or non-member state. Here’s a list of all member states. Once you know that, you can choose the right application which you can find on the CERN website. Non-member state students can stay for 8 weeks, while member state student can stay up to 13. It is advised to chose a period that includes July and August because the lectures are held in that period.

So, let’s get started!

When you open the application form, you will be expected to fill in the following:

  1. Personal information;
  2. Experience;
  3. Education;
  4. Add links to your LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and website. This is not mandatory but if you decide to put in the links, make sure that you updated and polished your accounts;
  5. Add your resume/CV (see my article on writing a CV);

At the bottom of the first page, there is a box in which you are supposed to write a message to a hiring manager. This did not exist when I first applied to CERN, so I asked the CERN hiring manager what should students write here. She said it is a space where students can add any additional information they think is necessary that won’t be covered in the application (like special circumstances or explanations for certain parts of your application). This is NOT a place for your motivation letter. In my last application for CERN, I used this space to emphasize the group I would like to work with. This way I enhanced my chance for the right people to see my application. If you do not know what to write, just leave it empty. I say this because, in my opinion, this can be a bit risky part of the application in the sense that if I was to write something, it would not change much but if I wrote something wrong, it could damage my application. I might be wrong, though. The choice is yours. Think about it and decide for yourself what you think is the best. ☺

When you click “NEXT”, you are taken to the rest of the application. For each box, think carefully and check your answers at least twice.

The following few questions are self-explanatory. Here, they will ask you for additional personal information (date of birth, gender, nationality) and languages you speak. They ask you about your knowledge of English and French. They do not ask you for a language certificate. You basically rate yourself. Here is a small piece of advice: Do not lie! Some supervisors have complained about students lying about their language skills and this is certainly not a very good first impression.

Then, you have to state your main field of studies.

So, here is the thing. They ask you now to write at maximum 1440 characters about your motivation to apply for this program. I find this question a tricky one and I strongly advise you to take some time and really put an effort into finding out what will make you stand out. Details and some useful notes on how to write a motivational letter for CERN can be found in my article on the topic.

The next step is to select a domain from the given list, which, in your opinion, “you have sufficient experience and/or knowledge to make an operational contribution”. The two following sections are also very important: you are asked to elaborate on the domain you have chosen in the previous step and to give interest in any specific topics. You have 1440 characters for each. You can find some specific advice in a dedicated post.

Then, you are asked to tell them which operating systems, programming languages and databases you are familiar with. You will be asked to provide details:

  1. Did you have lessons on it?
  2. What amount of code you wrote?
  3. Did you complete any projects?

And that’s it! Your application is (almost) done!

Now, you just have to answer a few questions about CERN (if you worked there, how long you want to stay and in what period) and attach any documents they ask for, e.g. an academic transcript. Make sure to attach all documents they are asking from you before you submit the application. You will not be able to attach any documents after you click that submit button!

I’d like to leave you with a few short pieces of advice:

  1. Do not lie in your application. If you think you will learn something by the time you are there – great! But do not put it now in your application. You don’t want to put that pressure on yourself. Who knows what can happen and you might not be able to learn that skill on time. So stay truthful and it will be okay. ☺
  2. Chose carefully who will write your reference letters. Friends shared their experience where people sent bad reference letters about students (you don’t see the reference letter that your referee submits).
  3. If you know someone from CERN, ask them to write a recommendation for you. This can even be a friend who was a summer student before (my summer student friend wrote a recommendation to his friend from University).
  4. Make your CV clean and easy to read. The simpler, the better. Don’t make it too long. See my article for details.
  5. Don’t worry whether you are good enough to be at CERN. Just apply! If you get in: awesome - and if not, there is always a next year or another great program (e.g. the DESY summer student program you can apply for).

So with a bit of luck, a great application, and good recommendation letters, you can be the next summer student at CERN. ☺

The best of luck with your application,


P.S. If you have any questions or comments, please write them below (or send me an email) and I will answer as soon as I see them. ☺