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Internships during graduate school? (Physics related)

  1. Mar 19, 2015 #1
    I was wondering if there is anyone out here who was in a PhD physics program that did internships during grad school? ( Or plans to do an internship) Google searching this usually leads me to many CS people that have done this. I guess it's not that common for physics people?

    I do not want to go into academia, so I think it would be useful to get some sort of industry experience in grad school. I know there are a variety of companies that do active research in physics related fields and some of these do offer internships for physics PhDs.

    Another reason I think internships during grad school is valuable is because of the new skills you learn and the connections you can make.

    I know whether a student does this or not depends on the type of research/field as well as advisor. I feel like I would rather apply for an internship than stay at the school to TA over the summer.

    *Disclaimer: I have not yet enrolled, but I am considering a few programs for Fall 2015*
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 19, 2015 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    Internship isn't really the right word. What can happen is that you can work on your thesis on some industrial project, usually one where there is already an arrangement between the company and the university.
     
  4. Mar 19, 2015 #3
    Thank you for the reply!

    Ohh, I did not know that! Thank you for explaining. One of the schools I have visited seems like it has several partnerships with companies and a lot of the students graduate end up working for the company. None of them mentioned working on an industrial project, though. However, the department chair did mention to us that not all students stay on campus the first summer to do research or TA.

    It doesn't seem common for grad students to do this, however. Which I understand since it is advisor dependent and there are other commitments involved.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2015
  5. Mar 19, 2015 #4

    Vanadium 50

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    The common thing for grad students to do is to work at a lab in their university, so yes, this is uncommon. And you're right - it is advisor dependent and not all projects are suitable. For example, you wouldn't want a thesis built upon proprietary and non-public data.
     
  6. Mar 20, 2015 #5

    ZapperZ

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    Your question actually is rather odd, because you are under the impression that you have plenty of time to dabble in other things while in grad school.

    Assuming that you are in the US, in your first year or two, you shouldn't be focusing on an "internship" over the summer, but rather, you should be studying to pass your qualifying exams! If you have any free time over the summer, that is what you should be doing! So I don't see how you would have plenty of time to be doing an "internship" anywhere.

    After you pass your qualifier, then you'll be immersed in your own research project, and this will be directed by the advisor and the project that you choose. Unless the internship overlaps significantly with your research project, or if your advisor isn't paying you an RAship to do your research work, then I don't see where you will find the time to perform such internship work.

    Zz.
     
  7. Mar 20, 2015 #6
    When I google searched this question, I seemed to have come across several of these questions but it was mostly by CS people. One was on this forum, but was a phd physics student who wanted to do quant finance. I would look for internships that overlap with my research interests in physics, because I would like to go into the industry. I think it would be important to make time for these opportunities.

    It cannot be that odd since there are several companies which offer internships for PhD physicist, engineers, CS etc. Someone must be taking advantage of it as a physicist...? Several of the companies, I looked at realize that PhD students have completely different schedules and even take that into consideration. Some companies are flexible and some expect you to be there the whole summer.

    I know whether a student does this or not is advisor dependent as well as dependent on other commitments the student makes .
     
  8. Mar 20, 2015 #7
    I had plenty of classmates intern while doing their PhD. They were all from the chemistry department though. They would pause their research work and go intern at a company for ~9 months. Some of them did this a few times. It was great for them to actually get industry experience and it led to jobs for them. The physics department didn't care about industry experience or employability/career so the physics students were not encouraged (or even not allowed) to intern. But physics students often want to be professors rather than work in industry anyway.
     
  9. Mar 20, 2015 #8

    Choppy

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    Something else to consider as well is that time spent on an internship is time not spend directly advancing your PhD project, unless you somehow manage to combine the two. And while this can certainly have the advantages of establishing a network connections and give you work experience it will also cause you to take that much longer to graduate.
     
  10. Mar 20, 2015 #9

    StatGuy2000

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    It seems to me that there is a considerable resistance within physics departments to graduate students pursuing internships, as if somehow internships have to be necessarily be opposed to or taking time off of one's PhD research project, as if the only time the graduate student will ever have is to work solely and exclusively on their research project (ZapperZ's comments reflect this attitude succinctly).

    The OP has already commented that in CS, for example, internships in industry are quite common for graduate students, and is often seen as both beneficial to and supplementary to their research. The situation is similar in graduate departments in statistics, applied math, operations research, and in many fields of engineering. In statistics, for example, it's quite common for PhD students to pursue summer internship opportunities in both the private and public sectors (e.g. places like AT&T Lab Research, Google Labs, Novartis, the CDC, the FDA). The American Statistical Association posts ads for internship positions on their website, and I've seen similar ads posted in many stats departments' websites.
     
  11. Mar 20, 2015 #10

    ZapperZ

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    There is a rational reason for that. If I were the advisor and I have research grant money, that money comes with strings! Often it covers only up to a maximum of 3 years, if not less, and I have to show progress every single year for there to be any chance of renewal.

    Now if I give an RA'ship to a student, then I expect a progress in work, because that is what I have to show each year when I write my report. If the student suddenly tells me that he/she needs a few months or even a year off to do an internship in the middle of this research work, what am I supposed to do? I can't prevent him/her to go off and do what he/she desires, but I will turn around and then find another graduate student to take over the work, which means that I will NOT guarantee that after that student is done with his/her internship, he/she will get to come back and pick up where he/she left off! It is unfair to the new student who picked up the work, because what do you expect me to do? Drop the new student?

    If you want your degree to be relevant to industries, choose a field that allows you to gain skills that are valuable to such industries.

    Zz.
     
  12. Mar 20, 2015 #11

    StatGuy2000

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    But then this begs the question about why certain departments (computer science, applied math, statistics, operations research, biostatistics, etc.) are able to allow their graduate students to pursue internships over the summer or possibly other terms (in fact, in many such departments, internships are encouraged). Many of these departments also have faculty members relying on research grant money with similar strings, and yet somehow (at least from my possibly naive viewpoint) are able to grant their graduate students more flexibility to pursue outside internships.

    What is it the difference between physics and these other fields?
     
  13. Mar 20, 2015 #12

    ZapperZ

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    I don't know. Ask someone in that department how prevalent is the practice and how they handled it. My guess is that there is a significant overlap in the research work and the internship. How often does that happen for someone who is working in HEP?

    Zz.
     
  14. Mar 20, 2015 #13

    StatGuy2000

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    Well, in the case of HEP, it is unlikely that there would be significant overlap between research work and an internship (with the possible exception of research work experience in places like CERN, Lawrence Livermore, or LANL, assuming these places offer internship experiences for graduate students).

    But as you yourself (among others) have pointed out here on PF, there are many different subfields of physics, some of which are often directly relevant to many different industries. For example, condensed matter physics, optics, accelerator physics (an example you often pinpoint). Would it be fair to say that internships could be feasible and more common for these subfields within physics?
     
  15. Mar 20, 2015 #14

    ZapperZ

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    Maybe, but I don't see any kind of internship available in such fields from my experience. How many of those have you come across? And I know of a number of SBIR companies that do work related to accelerator science. They offer post docs, but not graduate internships, at least not as a regular practice.

    So the only type of internships that tend to be available are typically not within the area of research.

    Zz.
     
  16. Mar 20, 2015 #15
    This is why I think whether or not a student pursues an internship is advisor dependent. I think it is important graduate within a reasonable time and I also think one should spend their time wisely in the PhD program. That is different for each student. As an undergrad, I was the type of student that spent a crazy amount of time on my research because I enjoyed it. Everything I did was to make progress towards it. Every course I took etc. I hung out with friends and had fun too...

    However, now i am taking a year off and I realize how important it is to think about other skills+other opportunities. As a student of physics, I was strongly encouraged to apply to grad school, and go into academia. Ofcourse there was warning about route too, but not as loud as some people on this forum and blogs make it. Makes sense, what kind of prof wants to discourage his/her students. However, most of the physics profs I had did not know much about the industry and what's relevant and what's not. My program prepared me very well for graduate school so I am not complaining. I do believe the skills I learned as a physicist ( Bachelor's level) has been extremely beneficial during that time I applied for jobs. I loved my program and I would do it all over again ( I miss it now).

    Anyways....I think these days it is important for profs to encourage PhD students to pursue internships if the student really wants to and it is reasonable( relevant to research or not). How often do you see on this forum, "I got a BS in physics what I do do? I had a PhD in theoretical blah ablah physics but I can't find a job."

    We all know that the academia job market is extremely competitive and these days getting into industry is tough (but not impossible) without prior industry experience or some sort of connection.
     
  17. Mar 21, 2015 #16
    Lots of companies offer internships for graduate students, a prime example is the GEM Consortium Fellowship:

    http://www.gemfellowship.org/students/gem-fellowship-program/
     
  18. Mar 21, 2015 #17
    Wow that fellowship seems like a great opportunity! Unfortunately, I do not qualify because I am not an underrepresented minority as defined in their eligibility.

    Maybe there are similar opportunities like this, I'll take a look around the web! Thank you for sharing!
     
  19. Mar 22, 2015 #18
    This discussion is interesting given that IBM advertises a lot of positions open for Physics Ph.D students to intern with them.
    i.e., http://ibm-research.jobs/job/research-summer-intern-gate-stacks-for-iii-v-semiconductors-other-yorktown-heights-ny-usa-res-0729631/72ebfbe6-c7ba-11e4-811c-bc764e10472e [Broken], http://ibm-research.jobs/job/research-summer-intern-magnetoelectronics-other-yorktown-heights-ny-usa-res-0716118/b6aafe2d-b77a-11e4-bb83-bc764e107f60 [Broken],

    and more. And many of IBM's research positions come with the qualifier: "Expected to publish papers and collaborate with others in the field while doing research" or something similar; while also asking for Physics Ph.D graduates.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  20. Mar 22, 2015 #19
    IBM was actually one of the companies I had in mind. I never met someone in person who has taken advantage of the opportunities, so I was wondering if there was someone here.

    Hopefully I will get the chance to apply.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  21. Mar 25, 2015 #20
    Reviving this so I could tell people that there are grad students who do internships over the summer in physics. There are advisors who are very open to this and in fact encourage it.

    So if this is something people want, choose an advisor that would let you! Something I learned during my school visits is that it is not only about finding an advisor that works on the project that interests you, but also about making sure that you both enjoy working with each other. Maybe that was obvious, but I was too focused on finding people that did stuff I enjoyed... I forgot a bit about the other stuff. I am no longer interested in working with some advisors after meeting/discussing with grad students...
     
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