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How do I find an internship that involves physics?

Updated Oakland, California

I am a freshman in high school in the bay area, and I am fascinated by physics, but I don’t know if I want to do it as a career. I am really interested in getting more hands on experience, but I don’t know what opportunities would be available for people my age. #physics #internships

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Greg’s Answer

Updated Sunnyvale, California

To be honest, I'm not certain there are a lot of physics internship opportunities for high school students. But there might be special "summer programs" for pre-college students. I'd check the web sites for Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (both in the East Bay) and for Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and NASA Ames Research Center (peninsula and South Bay, respectively) to see what, if anything, they list. (I know most of them have internships open to college students, but my recollection is that even those are more geared to college juniors and seniors and perhaps first-year grad students. At that level, you can consider options nationwide--there are many NASA centers and national laboratories; the latter include Fermilab, Sandia, Oak Ridge, Argonne, Los Alamos, and Brookhaven, as well as LBL and LLNL. I'm sure I've forgotten several.)

You could also check out local planetariums and science museums and see if there are any volunteer opportunities; it's not the same thing, but it is a way to start learning some aspects of the field and to start building up a network of contacts who might be able to help you in a stepping-stone sense. Both Foothill College and De Anza College in the South Bay have planetariums, as does the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. I'm 99% certain there's one in Oakland, too, but its name escapes me.

And take a look at what pops up for a Google "physics internships" search; while you might not be able to take immediate advantage of those listed by the APS or SPS, for example (https://www.aps.org/careers/employment/internships.cfm and https://www.spsnational.org/programs/internships), perusing the list will give you an idea of what to expect when you are eligible.

Finally, don't be too discouraged; I had a similar experience as a high school student (I wanted a job in a computer-related field but had to settle for a public library), but eventually I did internships at Fermilab, Argonne, and Bell Labs in New Jersey. All of them were outstanding experiences even if none of them were exactly the direction I expected to go. (Oh, and a physics professor hired me for a part-time position in my sophomore year; I did grunt work related to magnetospheric data analysis at first, as well as some programming, before moving to his rocket lab and helping construct sounding-rocket payloads by my senior year.)

Greg recommends the following next steps:

  • Check to see whether LBL, LLNL, SLAC, or Ames have summer programs available for high school students.
  • Do a web search for physics internships and see what kinds of positions are listed. Even though it's "from a distance," you might be able to rule out some or flag others as particularly interesting.
  • Check out some planetariums and science museums for related opportunities.
  • Contact a local community college's physics department and ask whether they have any professors or instructors who might be willing to work with a high school student on something, even if it's unpaid work.
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