How to benefit from internships, exchanges and scholarships

16. December 2013

Christian Reimer

Deciding where you want to conduct your graduate studies and on what kind of research are very difficult and important choices. Getting into the right program—ideally on a full scholarship—is even more challenging. Grades are certainly important, but there are other activities that can play a key role in starting your graduate studies on the right foot. Below are a few tips on how to make the most of these “extracurricular activities” to advance in your career.

Seek out new experiences

There are many ways for undergraduate students to get different kinds of experience and build a professional network, which will be helpful when applying to graduate school and other opportunities. Involvement with OSA Student Chapters, for example, offers valuable contact with other students and professionals with similar interests. Attending conferences and summer schools can broaden your scientific horizon and will help you to become more involved in your field. International exchanges are also valuable resources: a semester or year abroad will open your mind and provide new perspectives.

In my opinion, the most important activity is the acquisition of direct, firsthand research experience. Many research groups and companies offer internships for undergraduate students, which are a valuable addition to your CV and give you a glance into the academic or industrial world before you begin your graduate studies.

Apply, apply and apply

The lack of funds for research in academia is a fundamental and growing issue. It is therefore important to actively look and apply for as many scholarships and funding opportunities as possible. For example, there are many scholarships available to cover travel and other expenses for conferences, internships and exchanges. Even if these scholarships are small, there are very few reasons not to apply, and their impact can be significant for your CV. At first you may have to submit several applications to receive just one award, but after you have won a couple of scholarships and gathered some experience, you will find that success attracts more success.

Dare to ask

In my experience, there is a fundamental rule for a successful academic career: If you want something, ask for it. Being proactive and intelligently asking for what you want will help you throughout your professional life. For example, if you are interested in an internship, invest time and effort in writing a good and specific application letter, ask for help from someone who has already written successful applications, and apply even if no positions are advertised. The worst that can happen is that you do not get it.

The same applies if you want to collaborate with a research group, visit a conference or attend a summer school. If you do your homework and present legitimate reasons why you want to do it and how it will benefit your career or research, then do not be afraid to ask. You should be mentally prepared to have your request denied, but even then, the feedback and practice you receive will be valuable for the future.

While grades are certainly important, combining them with other types of experience will strengthen your CV and will help you get the right graduate position and succeed in academia. You can also take advantage of these opportunities without outstanding grades if you start small and apply often. The more you apply, the easier it will become.

Christian Reimer completed his German Diplom in Physics (equivalent to a M.Sc.) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany. During his studies, he participated in exchanges, research projects and internships at Draeger Inc., Germany; Heriot-Watt University, Scotland; the University of St Andrews, Scotland; Surrey University, England; the University of Glasgow, Scotland; and the University of Sydney, Australia. He is currently writing his Ph.D. at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS,, Canada, supported by a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship (


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Science Internships Waiting for your Application

6. February 2013

Catherine de Lange

This post is adapted from one that initially appeared on the Naturejobs blog with the kind permission of the author. The list of internships will be updated regularly, so keep checking for additional opportunities here.

To make it easier for you to find a great work placement, we’ve dedicated this blog post to upcoming opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.


Science Magazine, Washington, DC
• Science News Writing Internship:  Science Magazine, the largest circulating weekly of basic research — founded in 1880 by Thomas Alva Edison and published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — is offering an internship program for news writers. Science accepts applications for two 6-month periods: a winter-spring internship from January through June (deadline, September 15; selection, by mid-October) and a summer-fall internship from July through December (deadline, March 1; selection, by mid-April). Apply here.

National Institutes of Health (NIH)
• Summer internship program in Biomedical Research:  Summer programs at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provide an opportunity to spend a summer working at the NIH side-by-side with some of the leading scientists in the world, in an environment devoted exclusively to biomedical research. The NIH consists of the 240-bed Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center and more than 1200 laboratories/research projects located on the main campus in Bethesda, MD and the surrounding area as well as in Baltimore and Frederick, MD; Research Triangle Park, NC; Phoenix, AZ; Hamilton, MT; Framingham, MA; and Detroit, MI.  Internships cover a minimum of eight weeks, with students generally arriving at the NIH in May or June. The NIH Institutes and the Office of Intramural Training & Education sponsor a wide range of summer activities including lectures featuring distinguished NIH investigators, career/professional development workshops, and Summer Poster Day. Deadline is 1st March 2013. More information and application guidelines here.

• Summer Internships: Fermilab’s SIST program offers twelve-week summer internships in science and technology to undergraduate college students currently enrolled in four-year U.S. colleges and universities. Internships available in physics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and computer science offer a chance for students to work with Fermilab scientists or engineers on a project within the context of laboratory research. Deadline is Feb. 15 2013. Apply here.

Audubon Center of the North Woods
• Advanced Naturalist Internship, Sandstone, MN, United States: The Audubon Center of the North Woods (ACNW) is located in Sandstone, MN. We serve as a private, non-profit residential environmental learning center (RELC), wildlife rehabilitation facility, and conference & retreat center. We offer environmental learning experiences for people of all ages, with programming in natural history and science, team-building, adventure programming, and outdoor/environmental education. Our participants have the opportunity to experience a wide range of learning environments including our wildlife barn, yurt, log cabin, formal science classroom, and of course, the great outdoors! Apply here.

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex
• Invasive Plant Intern, Shirley, NY, United States : Interns will work with Refuge staff on the early detection-rapid response invasive species project at Oyster Bay, Target Rock, Seatuck and Wertheim National Wildlife Refuges. This internship will provide individuals with the opportunity to develop invasive species management skills, including identification, mapping and control. Training: On-the-job-training provided by biologists in plant identification and invasive species control techniques. Salary and Housing: Stipend $273/week plus free housing. More details and how to apply here.
•  Conservation Biology Intern,  Sag Harbor, NY, United States: The position will support conservation activities at four units of the Long Island NWR Complex and provide the intern with an opportunity to study wildlife management techniques through actual field work. This internship will focus on several tasks such as monitoring populations of beach nesting birds (e.g. federally threatened piping plover, least and common tern, and American oystercatcher), predator management and invasive species management. Duties include setting up/taking down symbolic fencing/exclosures, weekly population surveys, nest searches, behavioral observations, nest and brood monitoring, predator surveillance and trapping, invasive species mapping and control and public outreach. Position Dates: Start – mid-April or early-May; Ending – Late August to late-September (Approximately 14-18 weeks). Start and end dates are flexible. Salary and Housing: Stipend $273/week plus free housing. More information and how to apply here.

Sandia National Laboratories
• Student Intern – CSRI Grad Summer : Albuquerque, NM, United States: Performs work as an entry- to mid-level member of the workforce within a science and engineering environment involving graduate-level assignments, which may include research, application of project design and diagnostics, testing and documentation, development and analysis of technology options, and assembly and troubleshooting. More details and how to apply here.


• Internship in Analytical Software Development for at least 6 months in Germany: In a small team you will develop database applications for the .NET-platform. This includes Client/Server applications based on WinForms and ASP.NET with an Oracle database back-end. Based on existing user requirements’ specifications, you will work on the architecture of software systems and the implementation of classes and assemblies. During the development you will write automated unit tests to ensure a high quality of the finished product. Apply here.

• The International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE) is an independent, non-profit and non-political student exchange organisation. It provides students in technical degrees (primarily Science, Engineering and the applied arts) with paid, course-related, training abroad and employers with highly skilled, highly motivated trainees, for long or short term projects. With over 80 countries involved and exchanging over 4000 traineeships each year worldwide, it is the largest organization of its kind in the world. More information and deadlines here.

Contact Singapore
• Research internships:  Undergraduate and graduate students in science, technology, research and engineering can experience the exciting city of Singapore by applying for theExperience Singapore: Summer Research Internships. From Nov. 15, 2012 to Feb 28, 2013, the program is accepting applications for internships. More information here.


The British Science Association
• Media fellowships for researchers: A Media Fellow experiences first-hand how science is reported by spending 3-6 weeks on a summer placement with a press, broadcast or online journalist such as the Guardian, The Irish Times or BBC. They work with professional journalists to produce well informed, newsworthy pieces about developments in science. The Fellows come away better equipped to communicate their research to the media, public and their colleagues.  They develop writing skills that could help  produce concise and engaging articles and funding applications. For details about the scheme, including eligibility and online application form, visit the webpage. Application deadline: 11 March 2013.

The Royal Society
• Summer Science Exhibition intern: The Royal Society has an opportunity for an enthusiastic, self-motivated individual to help deliver the Summer Science Exhibition as a paid intern.  The Summer Science Exhibition is the Royal Society’s premier public event lasting a week with audiences as varied as school groups, the general public and VIPs in the world of science, engineering and mathematics.  The exhibition is a complex event involving over 20 cutting edge exhibits from UK universities as well as a surrounding programme of café scientifique, lectures and debates and family shows. Apply here.

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Centre
• Summer placements are typically available to students studying for their first degree (including medical and veterinary students) who are seeking research/work experience, usually during the summer break. We also welcome applications from master students. Placements are typically for three months between June and September although it may be possible to accommodate alternative periods on request, ranging from one to four months. Placements are potentially available across the full spectrum of the Institute’s activities. Applications are invited from 3rd December 2012 until 28th February 2013 and should be made using our on-line recruitment facility. To apply, visit Current jobs and look for Summer Placement.

The Royal Society of Chemistry
• The Royal Society of Chemistry runs a paid internship every year, which is supported by the Marriott Bequest. For eight weeks the intern will work in RSC’s magazine’s section on Chemistry World and Education in Chemistry. We’re looking for someone coming to the end of their undergraduate or graduate course, preferably in the chemical sciences. A bursary of £1750 is provided for the eight weeks and applications for the position close in late May, although the exact date hasn’t been finalized for the 2013 internship. The link from the 2012 intake is still active:

Disclaimer: Naturejobs takes no responsibility for these placements. Please contact individual companies/institutions directly for more information or to apply.

Catherine de Lange ( is a science journalist and the web editor of Naturejobs. She tweets at @catdl

The Naturejobs blog is regularly updated with expert science career advice as well as news updates and events that can help you succeed in your next career move. It also runs themed series of blog posts, guest posts and podcasts. If there's something you'd like to see covered, or you’d like to pitch an idea for a blog post please email the Naturejobs web editor, Catherine de Lange, at and follow us on Twitter: @naturejobs

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The Benefits of an Industry Internship: OPN Talks with Jung Park

24. May 2012

This week, OPN talks with Jung Park, an OSA recent graduate member. Jung found an industry internship with Intel Corporation while completing his Ph.D. in 2010 at the University of California, San Diego, U.S.A.  He discusses how he got the internship and why he believes Ph.D. students can benefit from stepping outside of academia, whether or not they decide to stay there.

 OPN: What made you decide to pursue an internship in industry?

Jung: During my graduate studies, I was mostly encouraged to pursue a career in academia. While I had some interest in doing so, I wasn’t certain that I was ready to commit to the long and arduous path to a tenured position at a university. When the time came to decide what to do next, I kept myself open to a variety of options, including jobs in industry as well as positions in government research labs and academia. I started researching to find out what types of positions I could pursue after I graduated.

OPN: How did you get your internship?

Jung: While attending the Frontiers in Optics conference, I met someone who worked for Intel Corporation in photonics research and development and discovered that the company was offering an internship. I interviewed for the position and was fortunate enough to receive an offer.  Although I came upon the internship somewhat by chance, I recognized it as a unique opportunity and jumped at it without hesitation.

OPN: How did you benefit from your internship?

Jung: I benefitted in a number of ways. Technically, the work was quite interesting and challenging, but it was very different than what I had done in an academic setting. While in graduate school, I had the freedom to satisfy my intellectual curiosity by conducting my own experiments. As an intern, however, I was working with a larger team of people that had a broad range of technical backgrounds and areas of expertise. We had to deliver on much more clearly defined goals. In a fairly short time, I became exposed to a variety of research areas.

Ultimately, being part of such a team gave me a new perspective and helped me to identify my place in the field. Although I found my graduate project interesting, I did not feel like I was working on something real until I applied what I had learned to my work in industry. Over the course of my graduate research, I became less interested in “pushing” ideas produced from research in the hope that they would be adopted for commercial or practical applications. Instead, I became more intrigued by the idea of “pulling” innovative solutions from demonstrated principles to solve real world problems.
While in academia, I worked to discover new principles and sought to produce high-impact publications. After working in industry, I realize that what I find most rewarding is not publications, citations and recognition, but rather developing the potential of a burgeoning technology.

OPN: What advice would you give to graduate students considering an industry internship?

Jung: I would highly encourage any graduate student to consider an internship in industry. It is important to learn about a variety of areas and to see things from different viewpoints. Even those whose ultimate goal is to pursue an academic career can benefit from this experience. In practical terms, industry experience provides a competitive advantage and makes one’s resume stand out, since many Ph.D. students have only done academic research. It also provides invaluable networking opportunities, which I encourage all students to take advantage of as much as possible. You never know when an opportunity might come up. I have no doubt that my industry internship led to my current position, in addition to the many invaluable lessons that I learned.

Jung Park ( received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of California, San Diego in 2010. He is currently a member of the Photonics Technology Lab at Intel Corporation, where he works to integrate silicon photonics devices for optical interconnects in computing applications.


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Finding the Right Internship as a Grad Student

24. September 2010

By Patricia Daukantas

In grad school, there's always plenty of work to be had through teaching or research assistant positions within your academic department. But if you want to broaden your exposure to different areas of research, or try on a different career path for size, an internship can be a great opportunity. You can spend part of your graduate career at another institution, get a public policy fellowship on Capitol Hill, or work in a nearby industrial lab.

But be aware that grad-school internships are not the same as the ones from undergraduate days. In many programs, you aren't expected to do an internship, so you will need to find such opportunities on your own—and then make the case to your professors that the off-site job is worth the time away from the laboratory.

The Career Focus column in the December issue of Optics & Photonics News will present case studies of three OSA young professionals who found success in internships before and during their graduate studies. Here are some advice and ideas gleaned from them:

Look at national funding agencies. In the United States, the National Physical Science Consortium offers graduate fellowships to U.S. citizens at several government laboratories. The U.S. National Science Foundation also provides a list of graduate-level opportunities, although not all of them are relevant to optics and photonics. Canadians can check out the Technology Exploitation and Networking (TEN) program offered by the Canadian Institute for Photonic Innovations.

If you're applying to graduate school, consider programs that already offer internships. For example, the University of New Mexico offers an internship option as one possible track toward an M.S. in optics. However, the student must do the internship at a nearby employer, so this option is most appealing to students already working at a local government laboratory, says Luke F. Lester, who heads the UNM graduate program in optical science and engineering.

Schools with a heavy focus on technology transfer—such as the University of Central Florida's CREOL—often encourage graduate students and faculty to partner with local photonics companies in order to help them create successful applications based on optics research. Internships are likely welcomed.

Prepare for paperwork. You (not your adviser) are responsible for visa applications, temporary work permits and other documents needed for an internship in another country. Even if you're working locally, you may have to write up a formal proposal beforehand or a written summary of the work you've done and how it ties in with your graduate research.

Keep an open mind. You may think you were hired as an intern for your expertise in nonlinear optics and then find yourself working in silicon photonics or on a terahertz-imaging system. You may need to learn how to use totally different lab equipment and/or software. It may be scary at first, but take it all in stride. Ultimately the internship will broaden your skills and make you more confident about your ability to handle new challenges.

That said, if an internship is so unstructured that you are not learning anything new or you are spending the vast majority of your time on administrative tasks, speak up. A good internship should benefit both you and your employer.

Ask questions. Use your inquiring mind to find out what other people outside your immediate workgroup are doing. You may discover a new interest that you never knew you had, or you might find interesting parallels with your own research.

Keep in touch. Your mentors and fellow interns may end up being future colleagues or mentors. At the very least, you'll already know some people the next time you go to a scientific meeting.

Bottom line: For motivated students, internships just during or after your graduate career can expose you to new research topics and valuable contacts that can pay dividends down the line.

Patricia Daukantas is the senior writer/editor for OPN. She holds a master's degree in astronomy from the University of Maryland.

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