Image of a laser with green lighting at the Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator (BELLA) Center.
Undergraduate research internships at national laboratories give students access to leading-edge technology, such as this laser at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. (Courtesy Berkeley Lab)

Discovering STEM Careers Through Undergraduate Internships

Two students in the College of Letters and Sciences gained real-world experience through virtual internships on research and technology projects in fall 2021. They were among 148 undergraduates who interned at national laboratories through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships program. Here are their stories, plus advice on finding internships as an undergraduate.

Caitlin Brown (B.S., applied mathematics, ’21) 

Image of UC Davis student Caitlin Brown outdoors, in front of green leafy bushes.
Caitlin Brown

During her DOE internship, Caitlin Brown analyzed transportation trends with scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Using statistical tools such as machine learning, Brown worked to forecast trends correlated with choosing hybrid and electric vehicles. “Ultimately, we wanted to understand the different factors that are influencing energy-efficiency trends,” she said. 

A transfer student who initially majored in math, Brown found her passion for applied math through another internship, the UC Davis Mentorships for Undergraduate Research in Agriculture, Letters and Science (MURALS) program. “It really opened up my mind to the possibilities of applied math in the scientific realm,” she said. “Math is like a language we learn to speak, and it’s nice to use it to speak to things in the real world,” she said.

Now a senior research associate at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Brown said her internships helped her build new skills and new relationships with people working in her field. “I think having an internship helps you a lot, and I would recommend going to the job fairs UC Davis has,” she said. “I had many interviews for internships and a lot of them didn’t go well, but I learned from my mistakes and eventually found the right place for me.”

Sarah Edwards (B.S., physics and linguistics, ’21) 

Sarah Edwards wearing a blue shirt and yellow UC Davis stole
Sarah Edwards

Sarah Edwards knew early on that she wanted to become a professor and chose UC Davis for its many opportunities for undergraduate research. The DOE internship was one of several research experiences for Edwards during her four years in Davis. “I’m pretty solidly on the experimental side of physics, and I gained a lot of hands-on technical skills that gave me a good launching-off point for my graduate work,” she said. She is now a graduate student in experimental physics at the University of Washington, where she also participated in a 10-week summer research experience as an undergraduate. 

Edwards’ DOE internship at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory focused on tungsten alloys as potential materials for fusion reactions. She developed computer simulations to test the viability of a particular alloy. “I learned a lot about the science, as well as how research functions outside of academia,” she said. For Edwards, who was president of the UC Davis Physics Club, organizing career panels for fellow students was the key to finding out about new opportunities. “It was at one of these panels that I learned about the DOE program,” she said, while also recommending that students pursuing internships attend similar events in their departments.  

Becky Oskin, content strategist in the College of Letters and Science

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