Science of Summer

Summer internships help students get a feel for their chosen career

During this time of year when students are asking "What did you do this summer?" a group of MIT students will be able to reply not just that they worked, but that they researched, analyzed, measured, tested, programmed, and discovered―all while honing skills they will use in their future careers.

The students traded in their sunglasses for safety glasses as they participated in internships at Lincoln Laboratory, which offers summer programs for graduate and undergraduate students from MIT and other colleges and universities across the nation. For many years, the Laboratory has hired summer students through the MIT VI-A MEng Thesis Program, the MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), the MIT Undergraduate Practical Opportunities Program (UPOP), the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP), and the Graduate Summer Research Program (SRP). Through these programs, over one hundred interns gained experience at Lincoln Laboratory this summer.

The VI-A MEng Thesis Program supports students earning their master's of engineering to do thesis work with a company or lab, while UROP, UPOP, and SURP enable undergraduates to learn about potential majors and investigate areas of interest while conducting research, and SRP helps graduate students gain practical skills applicable to their career.

"We have always been pleased with the character of the students hired and the caliber of their work," says Gary Hackett, the College Recruiting Program Coordinator in Lincoln Laboratory’s Human Resources Department. The students enhance their academic success by performing hands-on work in an engineering environment while addressing challenging problems critical to national security.

Photo of Pei-Lan HsuMIT VI-A student Pei-Lan Hsu probes graphene transistors during her internship at Lincoln Laboratory.

Sometimes, the internship is so enjoyable that students return the following summer. Pei-Lan Hsu, who is currently working on her MEng thesis research in the Advanced Silicon Technology Group at Lincoln Laboratory, has worked at Lincoln Laboratory for the past three summers in the VI-A MEng Thesis Program. Hsu continues to learn more each time she returns. "This internship has been such an eye-opener," says Hsu. "I'm learning how to be an engineer that gets things done―that means knowing when to be exact, knowing when to approximate, and knowing what you’re doing… I've also realized how much I still have to learn."

"Working in the real world, a student can get exposed to many more possibilities, and have access to more resources than in academia," says Hsu. Michael Scarito, a UROP EECS and physics student working at Lincoln Laboratory in the Advanced Networks and Applications Group says, "I'm increasing my understanding every time I use theories learned in courses and put them into practice in a lab environment."

Photo of UROP students at Lincoln Laboratory, left to right, Amrita Masurkar, Michael Scarito, Yi-Hsin Lin, and Erin Munsell. UROP students at Lincoln Laboratory, left to right, Amrita Masurkar, Michael Scarito, Yi-Hsin Lin, and Erin Munsell.  

Realizations such as this are exactly why Lincoln Laboratory takes part in the internship programs. Time spent working in a research and development laboratory can be a very positive part of the student's understanding of his/her field. "Sometimes students come and do interesting work, but decide it's not what they want to do, even though they had a good intern experience. Their internship actually helped them decide to change their major," says Hackett. "An internship that causes you to start on a new career path is just as useful as the one that furthers you in your chosen field."

Often, students continue to build on the experience by working for their internship sponsor on a full-time basis after graduation. Hackett says, "This internship scenario is mutually beneficial—they contribute, they learn, and we get meaningful research results. This opportunity also serves as a viewing period—they can view us as a potential employer, and we can view them as a potential employee." Internships such as these help students learn how professional research and critical thinking are done in real time, in real life, while contributing to leading-edge research that complements their course of study.

Posted August 2008


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