An October 2018 report by the American Institute of Physics found that the University of Oregon awarded the most physics masters degrees in the country during the 2016-2017 school year. A large portion of those degrees are attributed to the Master’s Industrial Internship Program — an interdisciplinary graduate program specifically aimed at preparing physics, chemistry and engineering students for a jobs in the private sector.
Despite the program being 21-years-old — young by graduate program standards — the program has graduated over 600 alumni. Lynde Ritzow, the director of recruitment and marketing, said that during the entirety of 2017, the program was responsible for 28 masters in applied physics degrees and 30 applied chemistry degrees.
The program is comprised of four “tracks.” Each track has a specific focus: semiconductors, polymers, optics and starting in summer 2019: molecular sensors. Dr. Nima Dinyari, director of the optics track, said the program is specifically designed to prepare students to work at a private company rather than a university laboratory.
“The core courses are taught in the summer, in a condensed version that emulates an industrial setting,” Dinyari said.
After completing their summer training, most students embark on an internship with a partner company, hence the “industrial internship” moniker for the program.
Dinyari and Lynde Ritzow, director of recruitment and marketing, said the program prepares students for private industry in two ways. First, classes are structured around team problem solving.
“We give them more work than any one person could accomplish on their own with a good state of mind so that [the students] have to work together,” Dinyari said.
Both Dinyari and Ritzow explained the team-oriented approach is indicative of an industrial environment. In all tracks of the program, physics, chemistry and engineering majors collaborate on every project they complete — with intentionally minimal guidance from instructors.
“People come out of academia as good independent problem solvers,” Ritzow said. “They’re good independent scientists. But now they are going into an environment where they have to work at a faster pace and they have to appreciate what other people are bringing to the table.”
Secondly, Dinyari and Ritzow said the program prepares students for working in industry because program leaders are able to tailor class content based on feedback from partner companies. Ritzow explained that to the companies, the program serves as pseudo-training for future employees, as the same students then take up internships and ultimately jobs at those companies.
Renae Gannon, a graduate student of the optics track, interned at Thermo-Fisher in Hillsboro in the materials science division. She said the commitment to team problem solving in the program helped her during her internship. Gannon also appreciated the freedom the program gave her to tinker with ideas rather than providing rigid guidelines on how to complete certain assignments.
“In all of our labs we are always given the same toolkit essentially,” Gannon said. “You might not always know what are the best tools to use for [a given project]. Some people end up with different solutions.”
After her internship, Gannon decided to return to UO for her Ph.D. She said she ultimately wants to go back into the industrial sector, but wants to further hone her skills and enjoys the “pure” science conducted in a traditional research laboratory.
Heather Fryhle, a graduate of the polymers track, completed her internship at Nike. Now currently employed as a materials researcher and developer at Nike, Fryhle said she does not see herself returning to academia in the near future. She said she values the stability a job provides for her versus the sometimes ambiguous schedule of a research student.
“It gives be time to schedule in workouts, or hanging out with friends,” Fryhle said. “In academia it’s definitely more up in the air in terms of when you are working and when you are not.”
Fryhle said that she appreciated the professional development she received throughout the program, such as learning networking skills, interviewing for jobs and resume building. While she said she would not change much about the program, Fryhle did say she would have liked to interact more with other tracks within the program.
“It would be interesting to learn more about the other tracks,” Fryhle said. “Especially if you’re someone that wants to move around between industries.”
According to the program website, “close to 98 percent” of industrial internship students complete an internship with a company after their summer training, and close to 90 percent of students receive job offers within three months of completing their internship. But Ritzow said in an email that internships are not guaranteed.
“At the end of the day, students are responsible for their own resumes and performance in interviews,” she said. “As administrators and teachers, our role is to help prepare students to best represent themselves. They still have to sit at the interview table alone. I like to think of this program as a partnership. We partner with students to help them be successful, but they have to put in the hard work to get there.”
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