Calling College STEM Students: Why You Should Consider a Summer Internship @ NIST

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It’s a college graduate’s nightmare. You earn your undergraduate degree with a stellar grade point average, over-the-top recommendations from your professors, and an induction into your discipline’s honor society, but, for some reason, no one will hire you.

In today’s job market, competition is fierce. Good grades are not enough to land a job or even pursue a graduate degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, commonly known as STEM. Before you graduate, you’ll need real-world experience to help you stand out from the crowd.

A summer internship can give you that experience.

My own undergraduate summer internship experiences taught me how to apply the science that I learned in the classroom to the real world. During my most memorable internship, I had the opportunity to study new materials made to be used in inflatable modules that would potentially be transported into space.

Because the inflatable modules were to be used in such an extreme environment, I had to understand the materials’ behavior and properties—even at temperatures as low as 3 kelvins. It’s not every day or at every job that you get to subject cutting-edge materials to temperatures as low as -270 degrees Celsius.

It was through this and my other internship experiences that I gained the skill set, encouragement, and confidence I needed to convince myself and others that I could be a scientist.

And that’s why I’m encouraging you to apply to the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

(After all, if you’re going to apply for an internship, you should try for the best, right?)

The SURF Program provides undergraduate students with a valuable and unique research experience advancing measurement science and standards.

Here are the top four reasons why I think you should consider applying to the SURF Program at NIST, where you’ll:

  • Contribute to innovative, real-world research ranging from quantum information to fire science,
  • Discover what really interests you by learning about many different research areas,
  • Meet valuable contacts, both friends and future collaborators, and
  •  Gain firsthand knowledge of what it’s like to work at a government lab—and maybe get a foot in the door for a research position after college or graduate school.

While you may be tempted to spend every waking hour working in our state-of-the-art labs, you probably should take the opportunity to explore new places. Washington, D.C., an exciting, historic, and cosmopolitan city brimming with bright and talented people, is just a short metro ride or drive away from NIST’s Gaithersburg, Md., campus. From Embassy Row to the Smithsonian museums to Ben’s Chili Bowl to the “Exorcist” stairs, you’ll get the chance to explore what the nation’s capital has to offer. And New York City is just three hours away.

NIST’s Colorado campus is close to downtown Boulder, home to the University of Colorado’s main campus. If you love the outdoors, Boulder is for you with hundreds of miles of hiking trails, plenty of rock climbing routes and access to skiing, all in the beautiful Rocky Mountains and just 25 miles from Denver.

Have I sold you on the NIST SURF Program yet? Good, I knew you were smart. Visit our website and attend one of our upcoming webinars for more information. Remember, the anticipated deadline for the summer 2016 opportunity is Feb. 12, 2016. Because your university must submit your application package, the deadline for your institution may be earlier than the NIST deadline, so check with your school’s sponsored programs or grants office, or ask your guidance counselor.

Hope to see you soon!

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About Author

Brandi Toliver

As the first person in her family to obtain a Ph.D., NIST Academic Program Manager Brandi Toliver channels her passion for chemistry and STEM outreach into overseeing the undergraduate STEM intern program, the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Program and the Professional Research Experience Program (PREP). During her free time, Brandi enjoys mentoring future generations, cooking, exercising, shopping, handling her beloved pit bull terriers in competitive dog shows and traveling to exotic destinations.

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