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Twelve MIT students from 10 different disciplines recently took part in the first-ever "externship" program for graduate students, a joint initiative of the Graduate Student Council (GSC) and the Alumni/ae Association.
The week-long Graduate Student Externship program during IAP lets graduate students job-shadow MIT alumni/ae and explore a new field or career option in the Washington, DC, area. During the day, the "externs" gained first-hand insights into their sponsor's organization. These included nonprofit/governmental organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, International Energy Agency and NOAA, and high-tech engineering companies including Mitre and Orbanital Sciences.
"Washington was selected so students could explore both technology and policy career options," said aero/astro graduate student Terence Fan, who is chair of the program.
"I was exposed to the entire spectrum of policy analysis, from the nitty-gritty details to the overall objectives," said Stephanie Harrington of ocean engineering, who took part in a case study on alternatives to methylbromide use in pre-harvest crops at ICF. "I would definitely recommend this program to others, [especially] those who would like to explore a career alternative."
In a different environment, Mark Peng of electrical engineering and computer science took part in the daily operations at Network Performance, a software startup company that had just secured venture capital funds to launch their product.
"Meetings for strategic alliances, market pushes -- all allowed me to experience the intimacy of a small company and the efficacy of one person," he said. The program provided "exposure to the real world that, for the most part, is hermetically insulated from most graduate students."
Students stayed with friends or at homes of alumni/ae. Funding for transportation and a reception came from the proceeds of the Graduate Career Fair, while the Alumni/ae Association donated souvenirs for the alumni/ae hosts.
"To help improve next year's program, we welcome any comments/suggestions regarding the organization of this program," said Sanith Wijesinghe of aeronautics and astronautics, a GSC co-chair to whom the idea of extending externships to graduate students was first proposed.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 4, 1998.