As a graduate student in the chemistry department, I spent my last three summers doing research in the lab. This year, I did something different. I participated in an internship. For 14 weeks, I interned at MicroLink Devices, Inc (MLD), a small private company in Niles focused on manufacturing semiconductors for defense and space applications.
As the solar cell engineering intern, I specifically worked on four research and development programs to improve the performance of multijunction III-V solar cells. The responsibilities I had included fabricating, characterizing materials, processing cells, analyzing data, and reviewing the literature. Of course, I did not do this alone. At the company, I was paired with two full time Ph.D.-level researchers who acted as my mentors. We worked together to evaluate data, discuss, and recommend future steps for each project. When I was unsure about how to execute a task (which was often!), I discussed and asked them questions. This research and development process in industry was closely related to the way I conduct research in graduate school.
If you’re a graduate student in the physical sciences, you might be asking, “What are the benefits to taking an internship?” I’d say that you can gain:
- Practical job experience. I had many opportunities to learn more about other parts of the solar cell company outside of the engineering group. I got to work on a bit of everything. As a result, I helped with producing solar cells from designing the cell architecture to packaging the solar cell arrays for delivery. Even though I did not know everything, it was important that I quickly adapted and regularly learned new things in the company.
- Network with professionals in your field. The internship program at MLD was not just about working. It was an invaluable opportunity for me to interact with the scientists there. If you’re considering a job at that company, you have a unique chance to experience the culture and decide if it is a good fit. In fact, a fellow summer intern, who was searching for a job then, accepted a job offer from MLD!
- Gain mentorship. What I’ve enjoyed most about this internship is the people whom I met. The PhD scientists were excited to talk about their journey from graduate school to their current career. Their advice has helped direct me as I start to look for jobs in academia and industry. They connected me with new and interesting people in the field.
You might also be wondering, “How can I secure an internship at a local semiconductor company?” The most useful advice I can give is to be proactive, let people know you are looking, and ask questions. There will be hidden opportunities you didn’t know about. In my own case, I had co-organized a company tour to MLD in Spring 2014. At the end of the company tour, the CEO announced that MLD was seeking summer interns and encouraged us to apply. Rarely do students in the physical sciences participate in summer internships. Even though I had not intended to do so, I was curious, so I followed up with an e-mail. The directors at MLD asked for an electronic copy of my resume. A couple of weeks later, I got called in for two rounds of on-site interviews, and the rest is history.
Monica So is entering the fifth year of her Ph.D. program in the chemistry department. Advised by Prof. Joseph T. Hupp, she is an NDSEG fellow researching the light-harvesting and energy transfer behavior of metal-organic framework materials for incorporation into photovoltaics.