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Other Trying to understand what internships are

Wrichik Basu

Gold Member
2018 Award
I have some time at hand before I join college for undergraduate studies. Being interested in research, especially in experimental physics, I was looking at the possibility of doing an internship at a nearby university.

But the thing that I can't understand is: what am I supposed to do as an intern (in general)? Am I supposed to find a topic, carry out research and publish it, like PhD thesis? Is that even possible at this level? Or am I supposed to somehow assist the professor in his work?

For example, I am currently taking an online course, on Nuclear Physics (introductory), for M.Sc. students. I am not facing a problem in understanding, since the prerequisites mentioned only QM at Griffiths level (remember, the course is only an introduction). The course textbook is the one by Kenneth Krane. But I know that what I am learning is perhaps only 1% of the field. If internship means research like PhD, then I cannot do anything in this field unless I expand my knowledge to a great extent.

On the other hand, I had done a course on NMR a few years back. The course primarily focused on experimental aspects, and if I revise the notes, I believe I will be able to do some basic experiments. Will it qualify as an internship if I learn to use the spectrometer and do some basic experiments so as to try out what I had learnt in theory?

If this question has been asked before, then I am sorry for posting it again. Mentors may close the thread in that case.


Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
"Internship" can mean a lot of different things. But as a summer student or research assistant at the undergraduate level, no one is going to expect you to be doing PhD-level research on your own. In most cases, you'll be doing whatever it is the PI (principle investigator) needs you to do. Often that can come down to taking measurements, quality control work, number crunching analysis, coding, etc. They *should* be teaching you what you need to know - or more specifically filling in the background between what you should know at your current level of study and what you need to know to accomplish your duties. Remember the point of these arrangements is that you do work of them and they give knowledge and skills to you.

Dr. Courtney

Education Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
2018 Award
If you represent your qualifications honestly and get hired, most internships will set you up for success by making sure they keep you in work in which you can be productive.

I've had lots of late high school and early college students on internships. What I really care about is zeal, hard work, and the talent represented when I offered the research opportunity. If I throw something at an intern that turns out to be too hard for them, we circle back around and I give them something more basic to do. We feel our way along, trying out tasks and projects until we find a good fit for their abilities and our needs. Depending on how long I anticipate having a specific intern, I may have time to invest and build new skills and then get to use those skills for a while. Or I may only have a few months in which case, I have to find a good fit early since I don't have too much time to invest in building new skills.

But you need to see things from the perspective of the scientist providing the internship - their main goal is that you contribute and help them produce the same or more tangible research results with less labor and effort from other group members than if you were not an intern with them. Successful internships (from their perspective) means they got more out of you (in terms of productivity) than they put into you (teaching, training, hand holding, etc.)

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