The Power of Internships
An internship is not the first thing that you typically associate with being a Ph.D. student, but my experience last summer at the National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) near Boulder, CO, has convinced me that it is absolutely the best thing a graduate student can do.
I practically stumbled into the experience by accident when I joined PhD Plus, a Pratt Engineering program that educates graduate students on different career paths and helps them acquire real-world experience. PhD Plus interested me even in my first year at Duke because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do post-Ph.D. and I had no idea what options were available. One of the advanced certificate requirements for the program is a 320-hour internship, which to me sounded like a great opportunity to expand both my network and my knowledge of what could come next.
So, I began my internship search in the spring of 2014 by conducting informational interviews with a few contacts I had made in the wind energy field. These interviews were short, around 30 minutes, but during that time I made sure to ask about how best to get an internship and recommendation for who I should speak with next. I then repeated the process with these new contacts. Finally, after a few stressful weeks where it seemed nothing would pan out…something did! It was with a happy heart that I accepted a position as a “visiting professional” at the NWTC, which is part of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The time I spent at the NWTC, nicknamed “the wind site,” was amazing. I remained in contact with my research adviser at Duke through semi-weekly Skype meetings while augmenting my knowledge through many discussions with experts in the field. Being at the wind site also exposed me to other aspects of the wind energy field in general. I attended lectures at both the wind site and at nearby University of Colorado at Boulder, presented my own research twice, and sat in on meetings with a variety of wind-energy industry partners. I was also given the opportunity to tour a turbine and on-site test facility, so I journeyed to the top of the 135-meteorological tower to test whether I was afraid of heights. (Luckily, I am not!)
The internship created far-reaching results that I did not initially anticipate. Thanks to the contacts I made at the wind site, I was able to apply for and receive a Department of Energy fellowship that will fund my research at the wind site for a full year! I have also expanded my network to the point where I can now introduce fellow graduate students to researchers both at the wind site and in the industry at large. I have also been asked to participate in fieldwork at Puget Sound to measure oceanic turbulence. It is hard for me to believe that something so simple—a summer conducting my research outside of Duke—could impact my future so much!