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Friday, 7 September 2012

Research internships for students

In the old days, students took unqualified jobs to make some extra money in the summers during their studies. Some would see these as an excuse to travel, work behind a bar on a beach in Spain or be a summer camp counselor in one of the national parks in the USA. More recently, special internships targeted at mostly university students wishing to gain some field-specific experience became very popular. Most common fields for such work have been banking, management consultancy, bussiness, law or IT. These programmes usually organized by private companies then serve not only to give extra work experience for students before they even receive their degrees, but also provide a recruiting pool for the competetive positions in the most prestigious corporations. Not all students however realize that such experience and recruiting can be equally, if not more, important in science and engineering research and develpment. Even fewer students realize that such jobs can even take them on adventure journeys anywhere on the planet! Here is some info about scientific, IT and engineering research internships around the world.

Research internships can be offered by pretty much any university, research group, government laboratory or a company. A lot of the time the researchers will have smaller projects with usually well defined scope of work and difficulty, which can be well matched to various students' abilities. Such projects then connect to a bigger reserarch topic and are thus often funded under a research grant or a special award for student projects provided by the institution. Sometimes, students are offered unpaid positions, but majority of such programmes that I came across provide a scholarship, salary or accomodation and maintanance of some sort. 

Students can research pretty much any subject.

The ideal time to look for such activities and get a summer job in research is probably during the second or third year of undergraduate studies. At this point students have covered the basics of their subjects and are ready for some challenge! It is also possible to start at high school or do this later at the end of their undergraduate degree or as grad students. This will depend on how good the student is and on the nature of the project or placement. Also, of then language barriers are not too relevant in research. English is the language of science today and opens more opportunities than many often realize. Knowledge of languages can be useful, but in most cases not crucial, English is usually enough.

IESTE is a great organization which sends students to research internships to universities and companies around the world. It is a fully funded programme and is present in many countries around the world. It involves both universities, independent labs as well as companies in all sorts of fields or subjects and students have an excellent choice of countries and different types of research. A similar program is also organised by Erasmus. An excellent summer student programme is offered at my current lab Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) - in fact, through this programme you could end up working on my research! One can also try out so called Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program or UROP at universities like MIT, Cornell, Caltech, Berkeley, Michigan, or anywhere in the USA. Very well organized UROPs also exist at Cambridge and Imperial College. Other UK univeristies also offer similar opportunities, e.g. University of Warwick, Bristol, St. Andrews. It is true that such internships can be found at institutions all around Europe and worldwide. Many of my friends have done research internships in the UK, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, USA, India, Singapore, Japan, etc. Pick your favourites! :)

Research students get to see places, not just science!

Lots of big laboratories not affiliated with universities also welcome student interns. For example the Max Planck Institutes in Germany, CERN in Switzerland, The Santa Fe InstituteLos Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory or Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the USA or UK's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Culham Centre for Fusion Energy offer many exciting research opportunities for high school, university and graduate students for the summer or even a full year. 

In most of the cases of such placements, you must also get in touch with the individual researchers/groups directly. Researchers are usually very happy to respond to the students and often invite them over to visit the lab in an informal fashion if the distance is not great. They are very keen to work with young talented students, so do not be shy and approach them! The best way to find the groups and research you might be interested in is through scientific articles, web search or recommendation. 

In some of the cases of federally funded US institutions, e.g. NASA, they often write "for U.S. citizens only", which may not always be correct in the strictest sense. A lot of the time local researchers have grants/funds available to other nationalities, I do know some summer students in NASA who are for e.g. Czech, but such exceptions need to be communicated directly with the researchers.

You can contact me through google if you have any specific questions that I might know the answers to.

Here are some interesting links that I can recommend:

UROP projects in Physics at Imperial College London:

Student placements at LANL: The pay in Los Alamos is very good, research very varied and the lab also pays for your relocation!

APS list of internships and fellowships in Physics, Material Science, etc. (USA):

ACS list of summer internships in Chemistry (USA):

Columbia list of summer internships in Biology and Environmental science (USA):

Clinical internships for medical students:

Undergraduate research at NASA:

University of Delaware Exchange 2007 Review:

UROP programme at Imperial College London.

Research and development internships and summer programs are also available in the field of IT. In fact, Los Alamos National Laboratory offers some good ones, one could also do these through university UROP programmes and non-profit organisations such as IESTE or Erasmus, see above. Most large companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Google, Facebook, Sophos, Siemens, Cisco, etc. offer a whole range of interesting internship opportunities from summer jobs to full year training programmes. A list of smaller companies (mostly UK based) offering IT internships can be found here.

Such summer and other internships are a unique opportunity to travel, try out "real-world" research, earn a little bit of money on the side and most importantly massively increase your chances to obtain fully funded PhD positions at prestigious institutions. In some cases, these are considered a basic requirement! I have done two during my undergraduate studies, at Imperial College and University of Delaware and they set me up for a very exciting scientific career.

If you are looking for internship programmes in other fields, here are some interesting websites I have come across:
Please, spread the word!

Good luck!


  1. Hi I am young IT girl and looking for a job or internship in USA, ideally San Francisco :)
    But its hard to find somme positions through job portals, because companies want us citizen ship :( could you give me some advice, a hint? Thank you so much :)

    1. All, of the Silicon Valley companies like Google or Facebook have very extensive internship programs for students. They advertise them on their websites, you must apply to them directly. Good luck!

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