Funding for Summer Internship

microacg
Posts: 62
Joined: Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:06 pm

Funding for Summer Internship

Postby microacg » Mon Mar 18, 2013 10:59 am

I am a physics grad student and I contact Brookhaven National Lab about their summer Graduate Research Internship Program: http://www.bnl.gov/education/program.asp?q=123

I live close enough to BNL that I would not need assistance with housing or transportation. However, the contact person told me I still need to acquire external funding (ostensibly from my home institution in NYC) in order to cover my stipend.

Why do I need to acquire funding for a stipend? Do you think if I asked they would let me waive the stipend (I doubt my home institution would give me funding). Could it be that they require students to come with a stipend because otherwise the students have a habit of just blowing them off at the last minute?

bfollinprm
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Re: Funding for Summer Internship

Postby bfollinprm » Mon Mar 18, 2013 11:21 am

Are you in an unfunded masters program? In most circumstances a PhD is fully funded (like a job), and Brookhaven is working under that assumption. You'll be getting a paycheck from them I'm sure, though the weird thing is that they need you to bring them the money they'd use to write that check. This ridiculous circle is a fairly routine part of physics.

microacg
Posts: 62
Joined: Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:06 pm

Re: Funding for Summer Internship

Postby microacg » Mon Mar 18, 2013 11:28 am

Yes I am unfunded. Does that mean I cannot do this even if I am willing to work for free for the three months (for the experience)? I have not explained any details to the contact person at BNL yet.

TakeruK
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Re: Funding for Summer Internship

Postby TakeruK » Mon Mar 18, 2013 12:16 pm

You can try but you would be doing yourself and others a disservice by doing the exact same work a paid student would but without pay. Volunteering to work with certain profs or groups in order to get experience is one thing, since that's something you and the prof/group set up with the goal of getting you into research waters. But it's really wrong, in my opinion, for you to go and volunteer to work a paid position for free. I know physics/research is not all about the money, but here's why I think this is a bad idea for students to do:

1. You are basically undercutting your peers. This is equivalent (but even more extreme) of applying to PhD programs and saying that you're willing to attend with only half the normal funding of other students. In grad school and in the national lab, a student, whether their stipend is paid for or not, still cost a lot of resources. There's overhead charges, desk space, and time (a free student still costs time to supervise). So, you are still taking a spot away from someone. How would you feel if you and another student were roughly equal in skill and experience and competing for the same spot and they told you "we'll take the lowest bidder"?

2. Even if they let you do this, this system becomes unsustainable when more and more students begin to do this. Why would places need to hire students if people are willing to work for free, for the experience. This leads to a system where only the people who are really good (so that schools are willing to pay them) or independently wealthy are able to access higher science education.

3. I actually doubt many places that normally hire students for the summer would even accept a free volunteer to do the same work. Like I said above, you will still represent a cost to them that is bigger than your stipend. Also, the mentality of a "free volunteer" is different than that of a "paid researcher". You might treat it exactly like a job, but it's hard for the employer to know that. Usually agreements between profs and volunteer students (for the experience) are temporary and casual in nature. When you are hired as a researcher, you would be bound to more rules and there's a stronger commitment!

In short, you are devaluing your skills (and all of your colleagues' skill) as a scientist/researcher/physicist when you volunteer to do work for free. There's already some issues with this going on at certain grad schools (where they don't pay for TA work since it's "part of our training"). Part of our "training" or not, most professional occupations pay their employees during the training phase of their career, and for workshops etc. "Getting experience" is not a substitute for pay -- proper remuneration for work like a summer research position at a national lab is both experience and a stipend.

microacg
Posts: 62
Joined: Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:06 pm

Re: Funding for Summer Internship

Postby microacg » Mon Mar 18, 2013 12:33 pm

Thank you for the in-depth response.

TakeruK wrote:You can try but you would be doing yourself and others a disservice by doing the exact same work a paid student would but without pay. Volunteering to work with certain profs or groups in order to get experience is one thing, since that's something you and the prof/group set up with the goal of getting you into research waters. But it's really wrong, in my opinion, for you to go and volunteer to work a paid position for free. I know physics/research is not all about the money, but here's why I think this is a bad idea for students to do:

1. You are basically undercutting your peers. This is equivalent (but even more extreme) of applying to PhD programs and saying that you're willing to attend with only half the normal funding of other students. In grad school and in the national lab, a student, whether their stipend is paid for or not, still cost a lot of resources. There's overhead charges, desk space, and time (a free student still costs time to supervise). So, you are still taking a spot away from someone. How would you feel if you and another student were roughly equal in skill and experience and competing for the same spot and they told you "we'll take the lowest bidder"?

Wow I didn't realize I was going to come across looking like a 'bad guy'! Certainly that is not my intention. What I would like to do is get some research experience, regardless of if I am paid, or not. Unfortunately, I do not have the financial support of another institution that BNL has suggested I seek (I haven't asked yet but I can be pretty darn sure of this).

Unfortunately, this is one of the only research opportunities that is logistically possible (could be the only one) since it would need to be commutable from where I live. Are you saying I should just give up on it because it is undercutting my peers? I certainly would never bend over backwards to step on other people's toes, but I don't want to sacrifice my own opportunities either.

2. Even if they let you do this, this system becomes unsustainable when more and more students begin to do this. Why would places need to hire students if people are willing to work for free, for the experience. This leads to a system where only the people who are really good (so that schools are willing to pay them) or independently wealthy are able to access higher science education.
Yes, I see your point. Can you think of something else that might be preferable for me to pursue?

3. I actually doubt many places that normally hire students for the summer would even accept a free volunteer to do the same work. Like I said above, you will still represent a cost to them that is bigger than your stipend. Also, the mentality of a "free volunteer" is different than that of a "paid researcher". You might treat it exactly like a job, but it's hard for the employer to know that. Usually agreements between profs and volunteer students (for the experience) are temporary and casual in nature. When you are hired as a researcher, you would be bound to more rules and there's a stronger commitment!
Yes this actually occurred to me before I made this thread. Maybe they want to know their interns are paid so they will be more serious. I could probably make the case that they wouldn't have to worry about that, but I wouldn't expect policies to get changed to make an exception for me.

In short, you are devaluing your skills (and all of your colleagues' skill) as a scientist/researcher/physicist when you volunteer to do work for free. There's already some issues with this going on at certain grad schools (where they don't pay for TA work since it's "part of our training"). Part of our "training" or not, most professional occupations pay their employees during the training phase of their career, and for workshops etc. "Getting experience" is not a substitute for pay -- proper remuneration for work like a summer research position at a national lab is both experience and a stipend.

If someone was willing to offer me the necessary funding for this, then this would certainly be a non-issue! I don't mean to devalue my skills, but I'm in a position where I have very little research experience and am seriously considering applying for a phd for a Fall 2014 start. I'm worried my lack of research experience will prevent me from getting into programs I otherwise have a chance at. Should I not be willing to do anything necessary (short of fraud etc of course) to secure some of this experience? Maybe I can just write a check to my Masters institution and have them forward it to BNL for me! (kidding of course)

TakeruK
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Re: Funding for Summer Internship

Postby TakeruK » Mon Mar 18, 2013 4:36 pm

Sorry if the last post came off as a bit harsh! I agree that if you think this is really your one best chance at PhD 2014 start, then you should definitely do what you can to secure this position. While we should all look out for each other, I agree that I wouldn't directly ask you to sacrifice your own opportunity -- you should probably look out for yourself first! Which is also why I wrote the post above, I'm "looking out for myself" by trying to encourage others to not create an environment where employers can expect grad students to work for free. But ultimately, if there is no other way, then I am not the type of person that would bully you into skipping out on this opportunity. I guess I wanted to just remind people that there is some danger in working for free, and to at least be wary of it when you feel like you have to do it. Good luck!!

bfollinprm
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Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Funding for Summer Internship

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Mar 19, 2013 1:56 am

yes, you should tell them your situation and let them know that you are in an unfunded masters program, which will not provide funding, but that you are willing to work regardless of payment. It may be that not bringing in the funds removes you from the official research program you applied to, but the professor(s) you'd have worked for will take you on anyway in a more unofficial capacity (which is just as good, since they'll still write a recommendation letter).

I think if you do good work you'll end up paid anyway--and plenty of people do research for 'free', anyone on a teaching assistantship falls in this category (probably 60% of physics grad students).

TakeruK
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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Funding for Summer Internship

Postby TakeruK » Tue Mar 19, 2013 11:13 am

bfollinprm wrote:I think if you do good work you'll end up paid anyway--and plenty of people do research for 'free', anyone on a teaching assistantship falls in this category (probably 60% of physics grad students).


The difference there is usually this research is towards your PhD thesis, not an extra summer research project. But more importantly, if the TAship is solely covering our stipend, then although "on paper", we might be paid only for our teaching role, but in practice, that stipend covers both our work as a TA and as a researcher. For example, they would not have hired a grad student to only teach but not do research at all!

Maybe I'm just lucky to be in a program where we don't have to worry too much about funding. But even when I was in the much less funded Canadian graduate schools, everyone was paid separately for research work and for TA work. A few students did not get paid as researchers from their school because they had a fellowship that covered that part of their funding (the fellowships come with the condition that the student's supervisor signs off that the student is making suitable progress in their research).

I don't agree with the idea that one should do good work now / work for free in order to get paid later (even if the pay is retroactive to all the previous work, which isn't going to happen), unless that is really your only choice. Research at the graduate school level is a valuable skill -- that's why we paid to go to undergrad and gain this skill. When we work at the graduate school level, good things come to both the school and to us. It's not a "privilege" to be able to work long hours for the school. If the school wants to benefit from our research hours/labour, they should be paying us for it, not the other way around. I'm not saying that grad students make better or equivalent researchers than post-docs or faculty members, but we are also appropriately paid less than these more experienced/skilled positions.

microacg
Posts: 62
Joined: Sat Mar 03, 2012 2:06 pm

Re: Funding for Summer Internship

Postby microacg » Tue Mar 19, 2013 11:20 am

Update: I spoke (on the phone this time) with the contact person and explained more details about my situation. He said they are very careful about taking on research students without funding because in the past they have had students volunteer to work for them and then try to claim for unemployment at the end of their internship. He said BNL hadn't done anything wrong, and they were able to demonstrate they were not liable for anything, but it required a lot of effort on the part of their legal team and they don't want that repeated.

I asked him if there is anything I can do as an unfunded masters student, and he suggested I look into which research/professors I am interested in at the facility, write/craft a CV for that type of placement, and also send him an unofficial graduate transcript. I think it will be difficult for me to craft the CV to any of their particular research areas due to my lack of specialized experience, but I will do my best with it.




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