This is the time of the year when I start to reach out to as many undergraduates in physics (and similar subjects) as possible. My yearly mantra for them: “Apply to summer internships!” I cannot emphasize how much my two internships shaped my life and career, from fortuitously having breakfast with a Nobel laureate, the living legend Jack Steinberger (and maybe a story to tell in another post) to hands-on work in physics analyses for the LHC and making friends from all across the globe.
This post is not intended to explain in any detail my work during those internships; however, if you are interested, I worked searching for double Higgs production during Run 1 at CERN and for the level-1 trigger upgrade at Fermilab, both within the CMS collaboration. Instead, I’ll try to give you some information and advice that should convince you to give it a try, in case you are in doubt.
Usually, people come up with two obstacles when facing this situation, telling themselves: “Maybe I’m not smart enough to go to CERN [or any other lab]” and “I don’t have money for that.”
There are many ways in which you can address the first issue, a short one would be: what does even “smart enough” mean? Good grades? Publications? Grading systems vary all across the world (for example: 18/20 in France ≠ 3.6/4 in the US) and you are not expected to already have publications when you are an undergrad. Don’t get me wrong, if you have good grades and publications that’s great and I also don’t want to sound apologetic towards those that are not committed to their career. However, I have witnessed how the ones who are genuinely interested in physics (with excelling grades or not, zero or N early publications) actually end up being good at research.
The lack of financial resources can appear as more difficult to overcome. In particular, for an average student in a public university like mine in Venezuela, just paying a flight abroad is currently, to say the least, far beyond reach. Well, you should know that several internship programs do cover living costs and could also pay (or reimburse) for traveling expenses.
This of course varies from program to program and you should read very carefully what the internship can offer: sometimes financial aid is provided by default or upon request, and sometimes fully or partially. (Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask them!) I have also seen many successful online fundraising campaigns to afford plane tickets, lodging and food for the first days, etc.. In any case, I think this is the kind of issue you should worry about after you get accepted.
Now that you hopefully have a hint on how to overcome two of the more common obstacles, I’m going to tell you what I think matters more than grades and money for this kind of applications: prepare a good motivation letter / statement of purpose and provide good recommendation letters. Any professor that has taught you any course or supervised you is a candidate for recommending you; needless to say, it has to be someone that (at least, you believe) has a good impression of you, i.e. someone who can say: “Hey, I know this student personally and know good reasons why him/her should get in your program.” (Sanity tip: ask them *at least* two weeks before deadline.)
My final advice is the same as the first: apply to Summer internships, to all of them! Really, you have nothing to loose and potentially lots to gain, regardless if it is in a local lab or in another continent. Got rejected? Well, it happens to you, to me, and pretty much everybody around, and, spoiler alert: it will most likely happen again many times. It just requires patience and perseverance. There are even (well-accomplished) people that have published a list of positions they didn’t get.
Below I’m going to leave you a list of three internships in HEP that I know about, but I’m sure that there are more around. If you happen to know about another one, please comment it here!
CERN Summer Student program:
DESY Summer Student program:
Deadline: January 31st, 2018 (application period starts on December 15th)
Stipend to cover living costs + travel subsidy.
Fermilab Internship programs:
Link to all programs.
Unfortunately, the IPM program that I attended (open to all nationalities) is not active any longer. Please read the details about eligibility and deadlines on the webpages for programs and partnerships with countries.
At the time I attended, a stipend and accommodation were provided. I had to cover travel expenses.