Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Nuclear Internships for Students:

A Word to the WISE

A reader contacted me recently and told me he was a nuclear engineering student seeking advice on summer internships. Instead of replying privately, I thought this subject might make a good column, and perhaps that others might weigh in and offer suggestions beyond what I can offer.

First of all, I'd like to take this opportunity to make a pitch for students to use at least one summer during their college years to try to learn something about public policy in the science and engineering area. Everything in nuclear energy is profoundly affected by decisions made in Washington, DC and in state capitals around the country, yet very few policy makers have any training in science or engineering, and very few scientists and engineers are willing to engage in the public policy debate.

Over the years, I've tried to do my small part to change this equation. One activity in which I was personally involved for a long time is called the Washington Internships for Students of Engineering--or WISE. In this program, outstanding engineering students are selected to spend 9 weeks in Washington, DC during the summer to learn how government officials make decisions on complex technological issues and how engineers can contribute to legislative and regulatory public policy decisions.

The WISE program has been ranked by the Princeton Review as one of the best student internship opportunities in the US (although I couldn't find it on their current website). The program is sponsored by a number of engineering societies, and I'm proud to say that ANS has consistently been a strong supporter, sponsoring two students each year. The students select a topic, meet with government and other officials to gather ideas on the legislative and regulatory issues associated with that topic, and prepare a paper on it. Some of them have had their papers published. In addition, they participate in a series of talks by various government officials on a wide range of science policy topics.

Unfortunately for the student who wrote to me, it appears from the WISE website that the deadline for applications for 2012 has recently passed. I do not know if there would be any latitude for the coming year. Anyone interested would have to inquire, but I suspect the WISE group will be reluctant to make an exception, as they are probably already reviewing the applications they have received. Therefore, the WISE program is probably more of an opportunity for students to consider for 2013. I should note that most students participating in the WISE program are rising seniors, but exceptions have occasionally been made to that rule.

Of course, there are many other summer internships in science policy available in Washington. Many government agencies and congressional offices accept students for short term programs in the summer. Arrangements would have to be made either through a student's congressional representatives (for a Capitol Hill experience) or with the specific agency of interest. A number of universities have their own programs designed to expose science and engineering students to the Washington public policy arena and even offer academic credit for the experience. Some state governments also have opportunities for students to serve in internships.

I have been focusing on internships in the science policy area, but for students who want to stick to more traditional engineering experiences, many companies in the nuclear industry offer students opportunities for summer positions. These opportunities are specific to each company, and would need to be explored individually with each company.

I would welcome comments on this blog from readers who can recommend other internship opportunities to the student who raised this question.



  1. I participated in a summer internship at the NRC in 2008, and had an excellent experience. As with most things in life, students will get as much from a summer internship as they put in -- in my case, I approached the various staff members in the office to which I was assigned and talked to each one about their careers, asked for advice, and asked if they had anything exciting or interesting that I could help them with. I wound up working on a high-level policy project that was extremely rewarding.

    If the student is a graduate student (or a senior undergraduate) that is already interested in policy matters, I would encourage them to look into the Nuclear Engineering Student Delegation as well. The website is www.nesd.org, and the new application should be posted soon.

  2. The WISE program is truly unique. When I was in the 1986 program, I was able to find top primary sources and interview key personnel. It certainly broadens the perspective.