Name: Maggie Capooci
Major: Environmental Science
Where did you do your internship?
I did an REU (research experience for undergraduates) at University of Wisconsin-Madison. The REU’s topic was “Geothermal and Energy Geotechnics.”
Time period for the internship / Number of hours?
10 weeks (May 27th, 2014 to August 2nd, 2014). There were no set “number of hours” you had to put in per week. The number of hours you put in depended on the nature of your work/how ambitious you are.
Responsibilities/Duties as an intern
I was assigned a particular project which I was expected to work on for the duration. My project involved calculating the energy efficiency of a ground source heat pump system that was installed in a residential home. I had to download the data that was collected on the system every day and upload it to a spreadsheet that I had made. I ran a series of calculations and scenarios (daily, weekly, monthly, warm vs. cold weather, etc.). Additionally, I had to attend meetings on Wednesday and Friday. For the Friday meetings, I was expected to have a PowerPoint updating the group about the progress of my project. The culmination of the REU was a journal-style scientific paper that I wrote describing my project, its results, and its conclusions, in addition to a final PowerPoint presentation summarizing my paper’s contents.
For me the REU gave me a glance of what it is like to go to grad school at a large Tier I research institution. You are expected to be internally motivated (i.e. you take control of your project and figure out what you need to do as opposed to a professor telling you what needs to be done). Additionally, your support group is your fellow grad students who are often your best source of information and advice if you run into problems.
I learned that what I was researching and the field in which I was researching in was not something that I wanted to pursue in the future. This was both a positive, as I knew to cross this off my list of things that I am potentially interested in doing, and a negative, as I was not truly enjoying what I was doing. I did learn that I like the process of doing research, even if the research was not exciting to me.
Since my project encountered several set-backs, including a two-week period in which I could not remotely access the system’s data, I learned to cope with frustration and how to communicate to those who could help me. I also learned that some things are beyond my control as a researcher and that that is okay.
I met a lot of people from various backgrounds and cultures, which was exciting. Additionally, I got to live, for a period of time, in a different state. The graduate students were very friendly and had activities that we could participate in. For example, we played pick-up volleyball, soccer, and ultimate Frisbee every Tuesday and Thursday.
Skills you have developed.
Use of Excel to handle extremely large quantities of data
How to critically analyze a ground source heat pump system and its instrumentation
How to properly read literature
How to write a journal style paper
How to present to a group of professors, graduate students, and undergraduate students
How to cope with a project that is not running as smoothly as you would like
Describe the environment.
The environment was relaxed. I had a desk in the grad student office of the Geological Engineering department. However, I spent most of my time doing by work in one of the libraries on campus. I was accountable for doing my work in a timely manner and taking control of my own schedule. I did not have to be at a set place for a set amount of time, excepting two weekly meetings.
I also spent a few days in a field environment at a geothermal well field that was in the process of being installed. We also went on a few field trips to visit various renewable energy sites (a wind farm, a biodigester, etc.).
University of Wisconsin-Madison, itself, was a large campus in the center of Madison. It was within walking distance to several lakes, the downtown, and the Capitol building. The city was beautiful and easy to get around in.
How has your internship changed you?
My internship made me realize that I did not want to pursue geothermal energy research in graduate school. I also realized that I did not want my future research endeavors to consist of me sitting at a desk with an Excel spreadsheet of data on my laptop. I want to do active field and lab research in addition to analyzing data. The lack of field and lab work during my internship made me realized just how much I liked doing it and how much I missed doing it.
I am also more confident in asking for clarification and for help with my research. I had no knowledge of geothermal systems coming in, but a willingness to learn about it. Since the geothermal heat pump system I was working on was already implemented, I had to ask people what each part of the system was and what its purpose was.
Also, the program made me more aware of the nature of renewable energy sources in general. The amount of research and collaboration required to make these technologies work is astounding.
What steps did you take in seeking out this internship?
The first step I took before seeking out a REU was to get some research experience here at the University. I did research in Dr. Smith’s lab as part of the Faculty Student Research Program (FSRP). I spent time collecting data on Gray Catbird feathers with spectrometer and SpectraSuite processing software. In Spring of 2014, I used the data that I collected in the previous fall to do a project on the Effects of Short-Term Climate on the Hue, Brightness, and Saturation of Gray Catbird Crism and Rectrix Feathers. The FSRP allowed me to discern for myself as to whether or not I liked the research process, while also getting invaluable experience.
The next step I took was to go to the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) website and search for REU’s that I would be interested in. So, I searched for “environmental science,” “biogeochemistry,” and “energy.” I made a list of places I was interested in applying to, what their program was, and the details about it (start/end date, housing, food, etc.). When the applications opened, I applied to each of the programs. Some program require essays, others resumes, etc. Additionally, I approached two faculty members to write me letters of recommendation for me.
After I applied to the programs, I waited to hear back from them. When University of Wisconsin-Madison offered me a spot in their Geothermal and Energy Geotechnics program, I accepted.
Did Career Services help you search for or secure your internship?
No. I was told about the REU programs by Dr. Engel.
Any recommendations for students looking to start the internship process.
Talk to your advisor about potential opportunities in your discipline.
Approach a professor whose research is of interest to you and ask if they would be willing to do an FSRP. Having some undergraduate research work done looks good when you apply to REUs and helps you to figure out if you like research in the first place.
Develop relationships with your professors. They are an invaluable source of information and will also be more willing to write reference letters for you when they know you personally.
Go on NSF’s website and search the REU’s that are available. Take time to look at the ones that are of interest to you. Some programs start before our semester ends or end after our semester starts; others require that you be either a sophomore or a junior.
Apply to 10-12 programs. They are very competitive. Also, keep a checklist of application package requirements (reference letters, essays, etc.) that you check off once the program has confirmed they got your materials.
Give your references a list of the programs you are applying to. This list should include how they are to submit their references. Some programs want them mailed. Others want them submitted online. Always give the appropriate addresses and links so that your references know exactly what to do.
Always check to confirm that the program has received a completed application and also confirm with your references that they have sent their letters.
Apply to programs that offer opportunities that are not offered here, that have an interesting topic, or that are out of your area of expertise. You just might be surprised that you actually like it!
Other interesting items about you and your background and interests.
I am one of the founders and the current president of the Sustainability Club on campus. We work closely with the Office of Sustainability and aim to bring awareness of sustainable measures that students can do on campus to help the environment. Some of our events include a kayaking trip, doing crafts with recycled materials, and an Evening of Environmental Science for local elementary and middle school students.