My Experience as a Fresh Intern in a New City

Share This:



Pathways - Advice from Experienced Voices

My Experience as a Fresh Intern in a New City


Vanessa B. Espinoza, SPS Member, Texas Lutheran University

Pictured left to right - Dr. Angela Hight Walker, Vanessa Espinoza, Dr. Erin Wood. Photo courtesy Vanessa Espinoza.

I never would have guessed that I would find my home away from home in the heart of our country’s capital. I’ve never been the type to leave Texas for more than a few weeks of vacation, but the experience that I gained while living in DC was one that will impact me forever.

As the second half of my junior year was flying by, I was searching high and low for all the physics summer research experience information that I could get my hands on. Every professor raves about summer research experiences and how helpful they can be to discover where one’s passions lie. As an active member of the Society of Physics Students, I knew that the SPS internship program existed but figured the odds of me getting to work at NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) were slim to none. Nonetheless, I decided to apply and take a chance. To my surprise, I was chosen as one of the two students who would make the Metro ride to NIST everyday!

My journey from San Antonio, Texas, to Washington, DC, meant culture shock and a realization of how much walking I would be doing. I will never forget my first trip to the grocery store. After getting lost and walking an extra mile I finally arrived with a large tote and a long list. Forgetting that there wasn’t a car to load all of my groceries into, I piled all of my groceries into the basket and then ended up walking out of the store with my full tote and six other bags hanging from my arms. The one and a half mile walk back was not an experience I would like to repeat, but it certainly is fun to laugh about it now. Obviously, I quickly adjusted and found closer stores.

Living in DC was amazing. There was always something free to do, the food was much more diverse than my usual tacos, and my roommates and I became friends who I will never forget.
The experience at NIST was one of the most amazing any young scientist can have. They work on practically everything, and one of the really great bonuses is that you can listen to a variety of lectures at almost any time of the day to learn about what other scientists are working on across its huge campus. I had the opportunity to work with one of the brightest and most kind-hearted physicists in the physical measurements laboratory. Dr. Angela Hight Walker is a physicist—more specifically, a spectroscopist—who works heavily with Raman spectroscopy.

Vanessa Espinoza using the spectrometer. Photo courtesy Vanessa Espinoza.

I came from a small university, and one of the most rewarding experiences I encountered was the opportunity to work with abundant instrumentation. This experience heightened my love for research and solidified my desire to pursue a graduate degree. I feel like I learned so much that will remain helpful in any career I pursue. For any young student who is trying to figure out if they are willing to go out on a limb and apply for this summer internship, my advice is to apply. The hour or so that you spend applying for this summer internship—or any of the hundred others that are available—may seem like a lot of time in that instance, but the payoff is worth the work. Aside from the awesome science you will get to do, you will also make friends and memories that will last a lifetime!

More from this department

Pathways - Advice from Experienced Voices