Program Overview

The Yale Summer Program in Astrophysics (YSPA) is a research and enrichment program hosted at the Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium (LFOP) at Yale for 32 rising high school seniors and juniors (high school students who are juniors or sophomores when they apply) who have shown an aptitude for science and math, an interest in astrophysics, and who are considering going into careers in science or tech. The program consists of a two-week online, directed self-study program followed by a four-week residential program. Students at YSPA live together on campus in one of the dorms, take classes at the Leitner Planetarium, learn to program and analyze data in the computer lab at the Leitner Observatory, and use the telescopes at the Leitner Observatory to collect data for their research project. At the end of the program, students write up their results in the form of a scientific paper and then present those results at our YSPA mini-conference. 

It’s difficult to describe what to expect at YSPA compared to other ways a high school student interested in science might choose to spend her or his summer. If you do a research internship in a scientist’s lab, you might learn some advanced research techniques, but you might not learn any of the fundamental concepts behind the research, and you might not get to socialize or make friends with anyone your age with your interests. At a college summer course, you might learn some interesting science and math and experience a college campus but not get any hands-on experience or learn research methods. At a summer camp, you might have a lot of fun and make a lot of new friends, but you probably would not get to learn new and interesting science (depending on the camp). 

YSPA is not a camp, it’s not a summer course, and it’s not a research internship, but it has elements that are like all of those things. You can expect to be challenged academically and personally and to be pushed to explore the boundaries of your comfort zone. You can expect to meet peers who are as smart (or smarter!) than you and who are as passionate about science as you are. Some say it’s like going on a month-long scientific mission on a research submarine with a group of similarly obsessed and brilliant scientists, because you are all working intensely on a specific problem in close quarters in a somewhat isolated environment. You might forget about the rest of the world for the four weeks of YSPA, and when the submarine resurfaces, you might find that you’ve changed. You may find that completing the program is one of the hardest and most rewarding things you’ve ever done. 

The main goal of YSPA is to provide our students with the opportunity to be academically and personally challenged in a professional scientific research environment so that they have experience meeting these challenges, so that they can go to college with the confidence that working in research is something that they a ready to pursue. YSPA has the secondary goal of accelerating the personal growth of our students by giving them the opportunity to live and work in a university environment with their true peers– other high school seniors from around the world who have similar interests in math and science. Finally, YSPA has a tertiary goal of teaching our students practical skills in math, computer programming, data analysis, statistics, writing, and other research methods— skills which are essential in all science, engineering, and tech fields. 

Many of our alumni have found YSPA to be a life-changing, formative experience. For students’ perspective on what the program is like, check out the YSPA 2017 student blog. 

YSPA participants courtesy of M. Faison