APS News

APS Co-Sponsors Summer Industrial Internship with IBM/Almaden

It is a generally acknowledged truth that one of the key junctures of a potential scientist's career is his or her undergraduate experience, and that women and under-represented minorities often choose to leave technical fields such as physics or chemistry if that experience is negative or discouraging. A new summer internship program co-sponsored by the APS and IBM/Almaden seeks to assist top students in under-represented groups at this key period, in hopes of persuading them to make science a career.

The idea for a summer internship program at IBM/Almaden came about because many researchers at the company were concerned about the low number of young people from under-represented groups continuing their studies in science and engineering fields, according to Barbara Jones, an IBM researcher who is also a member of the APS Committee on the Status of Women in Physics (CSWP). To that end, IBM decided to fund a group of internships among various disadvantaged groups, and co-sponsored with specific professional organizations in order to focus the advertising and applicant pool. It was decided to focus such programs on undergraduates in their sophomore and junior years, before they make their decisions about graduate school.

The first such program was for black undergraduates, and is operated in conjunction with the National Society of Black Engineers, and similar programs are being developed for Hispanic and Native American engineering majors, as well as women in computer science. The IBM/APS summer internship is specifically targeted to women undergraduate students majoring in physics, chemistry, materials science, or computer science who are completing their sophomore or junior year. Those selected receive a grant of $2500, as well as a salaried research internship at the IBM/Almaden laboratory in San Jose, California.

This year the program received 116 applications, nearly half of which were from students studying physics, with 10% in computer science and the remainder in engineering and other applied fields. Jones finds the mix indicative of "the interdisciplinary nature of physics today, as well as the range of people who belong to the APS." Of these, IBM selected four winners, who spent this past summer at the company. In addition, one of last year's winners deferred her internship until this summer, while the other winner from last year has returned for a second internship through NSF's Research Experience for Undergraduates program. "In a sense we have six women working with us this summer related to this program," says Jones. "So it's already a huge success."

Once selected, interns are assigned to a research group or specific project as closely tailored to their experience and research interests as possible. "So far we've been able to make very good matches, since IBM/Almaden is such a diverse workplace and we can easily encompass most of (the applicants') fields," says Jones. For example, Anelia Delcheva, a physics major at Clark University, worked with a group of IBM Fellows on a magnetism project, while Amy Lytle, a physics major from the College of Wooster, worked with an optics and lithography research group. The other two interns - Andrea Voss, a chemistry major from Seattle University, and Shirley Ni, a computer science major from the University of California, Los Angeles - are also working with research groups closely matched to their interests.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette