Students preparing to complete a capstone project or a senior thesis, or those looking for additional research experience, may want to pursue a summer research assistantship or internship outside of BYU. Be alert! If you are looking for research-intensive summer internships, December, January, and early February are traditionally the time to apply (March may be too late).
There are three main types of summer research programs/internships available outside BYU: government, university, and industry-sponsored programs.
Unfortunately no one seems to have a complete database of physics-related internships, but here are a few useful websites that provide some internships lists. Google may also be of assistance for you in searching for other opportunities.
- The internships & fellowships page of the American Physical Society
- The Society of Physics Students jobs page
- An internship page maintained by Stanford University
- A similar page maintained by University of Iowa
Approval for credit
The Physics Department internship coordinators are Dr. Allred (for all internships) and Dr. Leishman (in particular for acoustics-based internships). They may be able to help you find an internship, but by all means use the resources below on your own first. They also can help you get academic credit for doing an internship via Physics 399R, if you are interested in that.
If you are accepted into a summer internship program and want to turn the experience into a Capstone or Senior Thesis-qualified project and get credit for Physics 492R or Physics 498R, you should coordinate in advance with either Dr. Leishman (Capstone Coordinator) or with Dr. Turley (Senior Thesis Coordinator).
Government Labs Internships
US government-sponsored opportunities are handled through the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA). DOD opportunities are managed through the NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. DOE, NIST, and NASA, on the other hand, each have separate systems.
Many of our national laboratories and national user facilities are funded through the Department of Energy (DOE). They each sponsor summer intership programs as part of their core missions (i.e. their justification for expensive existence). The national labs are very large facilities (like small cities) and provide opportunities to contribute to teams working at the cutting edge of virtually any area of science and engineering. A few different DOE programs are available through their website. Typically you specify which DOE facility you are most interested in. If that lab doesn't select you due to a limited number of openings, you may then be selected by one of the other labs in a second-round. These programs usually provide transportation, housing, and a weekly stipend. These applications are due Dec 15!
NIST has two main locations, Boulder CO and Gaithersburg MD, and is much like other national labs except that it is operated by the Department of Commerce. Information on their summer internship program (SURF) can be found at their website.
Fermilab's internships are available here.
University research internships
While some major research universities have their own programs, most university-sponsored summer research opportunities are funded and managed through the REU program. See their website for more information. As you browse the list, you will see that BYU Physics Astronomy is an REU site. Our REU program is managed by Prof. Steve Turley. Some of our own students are funded through this program each summer in addition to those who apply from other places. You can apply to more than one location, but should only apply to sites that you are serious about. While the details are site specific, sites that don't provide transportation or housing usually have higher stipends to compensate. One of our students did an international REU at a university in China.
If you are interested in doing research at BYU, there are many options for funding. As mentioned some students are funded through the REU program; that's typically 40 hours/week for 10 weeks. Many other students get funded through the BYU Physics Department (20 hours/week for both Spring and Summer), see here to apply. Often professors will have their own research funding which they can use to support undergraduate student researchers. The most important thing for any of these opportunities is to have a professor and a research project lined up, so if you're not in a research group already you should definitely start talking to professors whose research you are most interested in about the possibility of joining their research groups.
Industrial research internships
Industry-sponsored internships constitute the largest pool of internship opportunities for both undergraduate as well as graduate students.
Industry-sponsored internships are too numerous and diverse to catalog here. A good starting strategy however, is to first consider generally one’s field(s) of interest. Examples of fields to consider are: Medical, Military, Environment, Energy, Government Research (e.g. National Labs, AI/Analytics, etc. In addition to considering fields of interest, one should also consider the purpose of the internship. For example is the internship paid or unpaid, is the internship clearly defined or open ended, will the internship provide mentoring opportunities, will the internship provided enough exposure to your field of interest to help guide your choice of career path, etc.? Also, keep in mind that Industry internships allow companies to attract new talent and to screen candidates for post-graduation openings. Many companies preferentially hire former interns or extend internships into multiple summers and then transition in to full time employment.
Identifying and finding internship opportunities that will meet your objectives may at first seem like a daunting task. In fact it takes some research to locate these opportunities because there is no central place to advertise them. The following is a partial list of approaches to help you find good candidate internship possibilities:
- Personal referral. The best way to find and secure an internship is generally to have someone introduce you (by letter or direct contact such as linkedIn) to someone within the company of interest. It is estimated that up to 75% of all internships and jobs are filled by those directly.
- Direct contact (both unsolicited and solicited). A critical mistake that is often made is to assume that because a company is not currently soliciting for positions that none are available. Companies will almost always find a way to accommodate individuals that they are interested in. One should reach out directly to a company of interest regardless of whether or not they are currently soliciting for open positions. Look for common connections to someone at the company to connect with (do your research on the company – standout).
- College fairs and job boards. College fairs and job boards are always a good source in that they represent companies that are actively looking for good candidates to fill internship positions. Also, they are generally very familiar with the quality of BYU students.
- Internet searches. Internet searching is a good place to research companies that might be a good match for your interests. Also, it is often possible with a little extra effort to search out the specific manager that is in charge of the posting and in turn allow you to reach out directly to establish a connection.
- Word of mouth. Another resource that is sometimes overlooked is to talk with peers that have previous internship experience with a company of interest. They will be able to give you information that may help you determine if the company is a good fit for your interests. Also, they can generally provide an “inside contact” for you to reach out and contact.
- Ask someone to mentor you on how to standout (again David Miller is a good resource) when applying for internships.
The best asset in pursuing an internship or job opportunity is to be bold. Don’t be shy.
Links to other internship opportunities
- U. Minnesota Supercomputing Institute
- U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science
- Smithsonian Astronomical Observatory
- National Institute of Health