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Finding Internships for a Physics Major

written by: Erik Hinrichsen•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 12/10/2010

This article provides advice on finding internships as a physics major. It explains what to expect, where to go, and logistics such as paid vs. unpaid internships. The article also includes a list of top physics internships.

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    If you're looking to gain valuable experience and make some money, an internship is the way to go. While this is true for any major, it is particularly true for physics majors. Choose the right internship and you can make the connections that help you land your first job or get into graduate school. But how can you find a physics internship? Should you look in industry or academia? Are they paid or unpaid? The answers to these questions depend on your own goals.

    Internships in industry are rare for physics majors. Most undergraduates end up working in university labs or government-funded labs. There may be some opportunities in fields not directly related to physics, however. For instance, many finance firms love physics majors, and may recruit at top schools for interns. These internships are often high-paying and may lead to a career in the finance industry. This is a good option for students who do not wish to continue on to graduate school.

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    Research Opportunities for Physics Majors

    The easiest option for finding a summer internship is through a university. Try discussing this with a professor who knows you, as he or she may have opportunities available for the summer. Some schools also offer summer research positions for students at other universities. These positions are usually paid by means of a stipend of between $3000 and $5000 and a housing and transportation allowance may be provided as well.

    Another option is working in a government-funded lab. The Department of Energy (DOE) offers a number of internships at both large and small labs. The larger labs offer internships during the school year as well as the summer, while smaller labs tend to offer only summer internships.

    Finally, there is the option of studying abroad and/or doing research abroad. These positions may not be paid, but they can be enjoyable and allow students to experience physics from a different perspective. Paid summer research experiences in Germany, for example, can be found through DAAD Rise, a German exchange program for science majors.

    Read on below for a list of the best physics internships available.

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    Top Physics Internships

    1. Undergraduate Research experience at a university lab.

    • These positions are usually paid and are offered by many universities. To find a partial list of colleges offering summer research internships, visit the REU websites linked at the end of this article.

    2. Astronomical and Astrophysical Research Labs (Partial List)

    • Hubble Space Telescope Institute - Internship in Baltimore, Maryland.
    • National Radio Astronomy Observatory - Research opportunities at the Very Large Array, Byrd Telescope, and ALMA lab
    • Arecibo Observatory - Research opportunity in Puerto Rico
    • National Optical Astronomy Observatory
    • NAU Observatory
    • National Solar Observatory
    • Cornell University - Summer REU
    • MIT Haystack Observatory - Summer research

    3. University Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)

    • Many schools (above), typically pay a stipend.

    4. Summer Research in a lab

    • Los Alamos National Lab
    • National Institute of Standards and Technology - Summer research
    • JILA program at University of Colorado, Boulder
    • Sandia Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM
    • Other labs

    5. DOE SULI and SRP programs

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    Conclusion

    This article is intended only to show some of the opportunities available, and is not a full list of physics internships. To find more opportunities, check out some of the material below.

    Sources

    Astronomy and Physics Internships

    Physics REU Sites

    DOE Internship website

Help for Physics Majors

This series contains helpful information and tips for students majoring in Physics.
  1. Top Undergraduate Programs in Physics
  2. Finding Internships for a Physics Major