An Internship Isn’t Rocket Science. Or Is It?

Friday afternoon, I had the pleasure of speaking to students in the class Frontiers of Engineering & Physics (Physics 190). The course focuses on career paths and opportunities in engineering and physics. I talked about the changing nature of the workplace and what employers seek in potential employees as well as how to enhance their marketability for internships and jobs.

Physics students could pursue a variety of career paths, from direct science fields – space & earth sciences, environmental science, computer science – to non-technical fields such as law, business, journalism, and science communication. Work could be found in education (K-12 or college/university), the government, in hospitals and medical centers, and even with non-profit organizations.

So what kinds of internship opportunities might a physics major pursue? Here are some examples.

Engineering

  • Abbott offers opportunities in engineering as part of their US Internship Program. Interns might work on instrument development, manufacturing support, and systems design. Abbott’s corporate headquarters is about 40 miles north of Chicago, close to the WI/IL border.
  • Further to the north, find Lockheed Martin in Eagan, MN. At this location, your internship could involve engineering-related work (computer, industrial, electrical, mechanical, or systems) with Maritime Systems & Sensors or Transportation & Security Solutions. Even though you might find opportunities in Minnesota, there are opportunities throughout the US. Interns receive mentoring and coaching from experienced professionals, and they do real work.

Government

  • Argonne National Laboratory is a major research center for the US Department of Energy just outside of Chicago. Argonne offers internships during the fall, spring, and summer in physical/life sciences, math, computer science, and engineering research programs. There are also applied research programs relating to energy, conservation, nanomaterials, and national security. The positions are paid and participants are provided with housing.
  • Want to get away from Wisconsin? Head out to California to intern with another Department of Energy lab, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. They offer 8-10 week summer internships in radiation detection, optical imaging, astrophysics, nuclear physics, high energy density physics, plasma physics and fusion energy for undergraduate or graduate students.

Research

  • Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) through the US National Science Foundation is a well-know and respected program. Undergraduate researchers work as a team of around 10 at a host institution. Each student works closely with a faculty mentor on a specific research project. Student researchers earn stipends and often receive assistance with housing and travel. REU sites are all over the US, including several UW institutions. Interested students can search for opportunities by discipline, area of research, and/or by state.

Finally, no matter the physics-related path chosen, involvement in UW-Whitewater’s Undergraduate Research Program is an excellent opportunity for experience. Working with a faculty mentor and participating in UW-W’s Undergraduate Research Day, UW System Symposium, and/or the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) also offer ample opportunities to build your network.

Find information on more programs and resources for internships in STEM fields in our Find an Internship section online.

Photo by Hash Milhan

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