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Where to look for physics internships

  1. Nov 2, 2013 #1
    I'm a first year physics student at the University of Tennessee, and if it is possible, I'd love to be able to do research this upcoming summer. I understand that odds are definitely against me, but I still want to try, and if anything I will gain experience searching for internships and research opportunities. I'm interested in astrophysics but I'd be up for research really in any area.

    I understand that by this upcoming summer, I won't know that much physics, so I'm not expecting for any sure fire answers. My professor told me that I'd likely have the best chance of doing research by finding another professor willing to take me on. I have yet to talk to my advisor, but he does research at Oak Ridge and he's an astronomer, so I'll likely talk to him about it when I have an advising session.

    If anyone has suggestions on places or people I should look into, let me know!
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 4, 2013 #2


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    You can apply for REU programs, but as a freshman with little background and no research experience at your own school, your chances aren't very good of getting one. Start by trying to get your own professors to take you on, and you'll have a better shot at an REU the following summer.
  4. Nov 4, 2013 #3
    Are you sure about that? I always thought that REUs favored students who did not have research opportunities at their own school.
  5. Nov 4, 2013 #4
    that is supposed to be the theory behind the NSF grants for REU's but at the end of the day what you write out in a grant might not be what is done
  6. Nov 4, 2013 #5
    Yeah that was my plan! I'm going to speak to my adviser very soon, and ask him about research opportunities for 1st year physics students in the department.

    I plan on applying to NASA's undergraduate research internship program for the summer of 2015, which will be after I've completed my second year, as well as any other interesting internships I can find.

    Has anyone had experience with research at Mauna Kea, Hawaii? That is probably somewhere I'd also apply to in the summer of 2015. This is the website for the REU, http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/reu/
  7. Nov 4, 2013 #6
    Make sure you apply to a lot. When I was an undergrad I applied to ten with a 3.8 and no research experience. I got rejected from all of them. REUs are very competitive.
  8. Nov 4, 2013 #7
    That makes sense. I've heard some pretty scary numbers from the NASA undergraduate internship program in terms of acceptance numbers.

    What would be some ways of differentiating myself from the pack? I guess the only differentiating factors I have right now is that I'm an Eagle Scout, but I don't know if that will really even matter. Maybe it will have some bearing with NASA, because of the history of scouting and astronauts. Each year, in the physics department at UTK, an award is given out to the most outstanding first year physics student, that is currently the goal I'm trying to accomplish.
  9. Nov 4, 2013 #8
    Play up any angle of minority status you have. One of my classmates who was a minority got an REU I applied for with a lower GPA than me and the same letter writers as me.
  10. Nov 4, 2013 #9
    Unfortunately I don't have that benefit in anyway, I will have to find other routes of differentiating myself. The only things I know of are getting the best grades I possibly can, and any awards that I can get along the way. Any advice further than that would be great!
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2013
  11. Nov 4, 2013 #10
    Does your undergrad institution have undergrad research opportunities? Does it have a graduate program with papers being pushed out? Or is it undergrad only? If the REUs do in fact favor people who lack research opportunity then maybe try to work that into your letter. Play up difficulty in getting research where you are at or probably better, play up unique opportunities you can get at the place you are applying. Of course as always try to focus on what you can do for them and how you can help them rather than solely talking about how the experience could help you.

    Do you know of any students at your school who have gotten an REU? You should talk to them. Also talking to your undergrad adviser about this is probably a good idea. Thats just basic networking really. Opportunities, REU or otherwise, come from a variety of places and you should try to put feelers out in many directions to make sure you can hook something.

    edit - also, consider the engineering department if there is one. There is nothing stopping you from crashing their party and doing research or an actual internship with or through them.
  12. Nov 4, 2013 #11
    That makes a lot of sense. UTK has an undergraduate and graduate program, and it does push papers out, however I don't know at what frequency.

    The Oak Ridge National Laboratory in literally 30 minutes away from campus, and that is where many of the professors and students at UTK conduct their research. So there are definitely opportunities there for me as I progress farther into the undergraduate program. My adviser, is an astronomer and does research in theoretical astrophysics with a particular emphasis on modeling stellar explosions, as well as Theoretical neutrino astrophysics. Astrophysics is what I'm most interested in, and if I could nail something with him, that would be amazing, but I'm honestly open to anything.

    My physics professor told me that several people in the program have gotten into NASA's REU. I'm actually joining my SPS organization this week and have tons of questions that they will likely have answers for.

    Basically what I'm trying to accomplish is to potentially get a research position at the university next semester, or the summer of 2014, and then that fall apply for the more competitive REU's for the summer of 2015 after I have completed my second year of physics.
  13. Nov 6, 2013 #12

    Apply to every REU you find interesting. They made my summers so much more enjoyable. What's better than fully funded research at another university with free housing and travel?

    On your application, make sure you emphasize any related skills. Every REU that accepted me did largely because of my programming skills. I went to a tiny liberal arts college, and got into REUs at multiple universities every year (even as a freshman). It's not easy - you need to do lots of applications, have the right skills, and write fantastic SOPs, but with a little luck, you'll get an offer.

    Also, consider industry internships. It will give you a feel for a STEM job outside of academia. Probably not the highest priority if you know you want to go to grad school for astrophysics, but they can definitely be useful and educational.

    Edit: Try not to get enamored with one particular summer program or opportunity. Apply to a good number of them - if your top choice rejects you, make sure you have a second choice. And a third, and so on. You might find the perfect research project somewhere you never expected, and that beats working retail over the summer.
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2013
  14. Nov 6, 2013 #13


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    Staff: Mentor

    I'm sure the programming skills helped, but the fact that you're at a small LAC probably also helped. One of the goals of the REU program is to help students at colleges like yours that have few or no local research opportunities.
  15. Nov 6, 2013 #14

    I appreciate your comment! I'll give it a try. I didn't think about looking into STEM related internships, and I'm glad you mentioned it. I can't know for sure that going to grad school will really be want I want to do until I'm almost there, or at least farther into my schooling than I am now. I will definitely look into that. I think it might be a little too late now to apply for REUs for this upcoming summer, but I will still look into any I find!
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