Guide To Internships

Version 2021.1

Internships are experiential learning opportunities in which a student works with a mentor in a company, national lab, or other non-academic employer for a fixed period of time. This section discusses how to effectively set up, run, and promote internship programs through your department and/or in partnership with other departments and offices at your institution or nearby institutions; how to develop relationships with

Internship Partner

A company, national lab, or other non-academic employer that your department or institution partners with to provide internships to students.

; and how to support students in internships. The guidance in this section may also apply to co-op programs. The terms “internship” and “co-op” may be used interchangeably, or may be distinguished in ways that are particular to your institutional context. Internships are typically part-time and/or short-term (less than three months) experiences that can be completed during the summer or while students are taking classes. Co-ops are typically full-time and longer-term (3–12 months) experiences that students engage in instead of classes. Internships may be optional extracurricular activities or an integrated part of a physics program’s curriculum. For guidance on other experiences that may be similar to or related to internships, see the sections on Capstone Experiences and Undergraduate Research.


Student internships have been identified as a high-impact practice that can be a powerful tool for recruiting and retention, particularly for students from

Marginalized Groups

People of color and others with marginalized ethnicities, women and others who experience misogyny, LGBTQ+ people, disabled people, and others who have traditionally been marginalized in society and in physics. According to the TEAM-UP Report, marginalized groups are “groups of people defined by a common social identity who lack adequate social power or resources to design, build, or perpetuate social structures or institutions that reflect the centrality … of their identities, proclivities, and points of view. … They need not be underrepresented or numerical minorities, but often are.” We use the term marginalized groups, rather than minorities, underrepresented groups, or other commonly used terms, because people in these groups are not always minorities or underrepresented, and in order to convey that underrepresentation is the result of marginalization rather than a statistical accident. Another common term is minoritized groups. While we use this general term for brevity and readability, it is important to recognize that the many different groups encompassed by this term face different challenges and have different needs that should be addressed individually whenever possible, to learn the terms that people ask to be called, and to recognize that these terms may change over time.

. Internship programs can help departments meet

Program-Level Student Learning Outcomes

Statements describing what your students should be able to do as a result of completing your degree program. Outcomes emphasize the integration and application of knowledge rather than coverage of material, and are observable, measurable, and demonstrable. They use specific, active verbs (e.g., “identify,” “develop,” “communicate,” “demonstrate”) rather than “understand.” Program-level student learning outcomes are often abbreviated as program-level SLOs or as PLOs, and are also known as program-level learning goals. The term “outcomes” is becoming preferred over “goals” or “objectives” because it makes it clearer that these are defined expectations upon completion of the program, rather than aspirational goals that may or may not be achieved. Examples include:

  • Identify, formulate, and solve broadly defined technical or scientific problems by applying knowledge of mathematics and science and/or technical topics to areas relevant to the discipline
  • Develop and conduct experiments or test hypotheses, analyze and interpret data, and use scientific judgment to draw conclusions
  • Communicate scientific ideas and results in written and oral form according to professional standards and norms
  • Demonstrate and exemplify an understanding of ethical conduct in scientific and professional settings

Program-level student learning outcomes generally focus on overall program outcomes, in contrast to course-level student learning outcomes, which are specific to the knowledge and skills addressed in individual courses. Accreditation requirements typically require program-level student learning outcomes to be defined separately for each degree program (e.g., BA, BS, or minor), even though there will often be considerable overlap among these sets of outcomes. For more details, see the section on How to Assess Student Learning at the Program Level. For examples, see the supplement on Sample Documents for Program-Level Assessment of Student Learning or the PhysPort expert recommendation How do I develop student learning outcomes for physics courses?

. Internships support career preparation by providing opportunities for students to learn technical and professional skills relevant to careers in industry, exposing students to a variety of career options, types of organizations, supervisory styles, and relationships with co-workers. Such experiences empower students to explore the kinds of careers that might fit their interests and abilities and the kinds of organizations they might like to work for. Paid internships provide opportunities for students to earn money to pay for college and/or reduce student loan debt, and to have work they do to pay for college contribute to their education. Internships help students build a network of professional contacts and are an effective way for undergraduates to get a job in industry immediately after graduation. Internship programs can also lead to relationships with

Internship Partner

A company, national lab, or other non-academic employer that your department or institution partners with to provide internships to students.

that can benefit the department.

The Cycle of Reflection and Action

Effective Practices

Effective Practices

  1. Assess the local landscape with respect to internships and gather resources

  2. Design and implement an internship program

  3. Support the internship experience

  4. Promote internships and their value to students

  5. Integrate internships into the student experience

Programmatic Assessments

Programmatic Assessments

See Resources in the section on Career Preparation for resources about the knowledge and skills in which non-academic employers are interested, the wide range of relevant skills that physics students acquire, and the broad range of employment opportunities (including common job titles, most of which do not specifically include the word “physicist”) available for students with a background in physics.

Listings of physics-related internship programs:

Advice for companies on establishing and running internship programs:

These articles discuss the value and impact of internship programs:

  1. N. O’Neill, “Internships as a High-Impact Practice: Some Reflections on Quality,” Peer Review 12(4) (2010).
  2. Marsono, M. Sugandi, Tuwoso, and Purnomo, “Study the impact of internship on improving engineering students’ competency,” AIP Conference Proceedings 1887, 020064 (2017).
  3. N. Saltikoff, “The Positive Implications of Internships on Early Career Outcomes,” National Association of Colleges and Employers (2017).
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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 1738311, 1747563, and 1821372. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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