A close-up of a young woman, Jasmine Singh, who works at NASA as an intern. There are leafy trees in the background.
Image: Jasmine Singh

What is it like to land an internship at NASA?

6 Sep 2021

Jasmine Singh’s dream is to work at NASA. This year, that dream came true when she started a 10-week internship at the space agency.

Working at NASA is the ultimate dream job for many people who love space. Whether it’s as an engineer, a data scientist or even an astronaut, to be at one of the world’s biggest space agencies doing work you’re passionate about is incredible.

Here at Siliconrepublic.com, we’ve interviewed several people who have worked at NASA over the years, from former astronaut Joan Higginbotham to human spaceflight chief Kathryn Lueders.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

But what’s it like working as an intern there? Jasmine Singh began a 10-week internship with NASA in June 2021. She’s currently studying planetary science and atmospheric science at Purdue University.

She’s particularly passionate about planets, their atmospheres and astrobiology. “In a way, I was always interested in searching for aliens but I did not know that it was an actual field,” she said.

Singh told Siliconrepublic.com that landing the job took a bit of time, patience and a bit of help from one of her mentors, Marcus van Lier-Walqui.

She had applied for a number of opportunities at various NASA centres, but watched as they started filling up. At this point, she decided to stay at her university for the summer and research hurricanes on exoplanets.

It was during that time that van Lier-Walqui reached out to Singh about a potential opportunity at NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).

“He said that he would put my name in, but that he could not guarantee me anything because of the uncertainty of funding,” she said.

Luckily, she soon got word that she had been accepted on the internship. “I will never forget it, and I cannot thank Marcus enough for reaching out to me and allowing me to have this opportunity. I am incredibly lucky and thankful for it.”

‘There are so many people that work together to make NASA what it is’
– JASMINE SINGH

Uniquely, the ongoing pandemic meant that Singh was not going to be physically at GISS but said that it has still been very relaxed and everyone understands the drawbacks of being virtual.

Working at NASA

As part of her internship, Singh is working on the GISS climate model, which focuses on the Earth’s climate. She has also been given the opportunity to work on the ROCKE-3D exoplanet climate model, because of her interest in planetary atmospheres.

“Specifically, I am working on the emulator for the model, which will explore different combinations of planetary parameters, such as albedo [the reflective properties], star type, or available water content in order to maximise various habitability metrics, without using other global climate model simulations. We are trying to find a relationship between these planetary parameters and habitability,” she said.

“Not only have I learned a lot about what it’s like to work for NASA, but I have also learned a ton about machine learning due to my project and coding as well, which is amazing since I have been wanting to improve my coding skills in Python for a while now.”

Singh also said that her time as an intern has shown her just how diverse NASA is as well. “It’s really not just scientists and engineers all over the place. There are so many people that work together to make NASA what it is and that is what I love the most about it, besides the incredible scientific exploration and discoveries that are being made.”

Singh said she was surprised to learn how many people who are working at NASA now started out as interns and the idea that they were in her shoes once felt very reassuring.

“Everyone at NASA wants to see the interns succeed and end up at NASA as well. Most of the people there (even the administration) were interns as well, so they can relate to us and want to guide us in our experience, connecting us to the right people and helping us when we need someone to just talk to. It really makes the work environment amazing to be in.”

Women in STEM

Outside of her passion for planets and the stars, Singh is also a passionate advocate for women in STEM.

She leads the Women in Science organisation at Purdue University (WISP), which mentors freshman women in science courses.

“I hope that I can give presentations or talks to young girls and women about STEM and what it’s like to be in a STEM field. My goal is to ultimately inspire them, since I did not have a female role model to look up to until about college. I care a lot about science, but I also want to inspire people to chase their dreams as well,” she said.

“I believe that one of the main things that we need are mentorship programmes, similar to WISP, but for younger girls. I think that this would help them get inspired and find out what they enjoy learning about. I also think that it would be incredibly useful because they would have women to look up to from a young age, which would help to show them that girls can do anything that they set their minds to and that we should not listen to people who make sexist comments or tell us to quit.”

‘Chase your dreams’

When asked what advice she would give to those who want to follow in her footsteps and work at NASA too, she said taking a lot of maths and science courses helps if that’s the route you’re looking to go down.

“It also helps to be involved in various organisations, whether they are space oriented or not. This shows that you are involved in things outside of academics. For instance, I am in band and I play the flute, which shows that I am well-rounded and not just strictly involved in academics,” she said.

“Additionally, I worked incredibly hard in school, taking advanced courses and earning good grades because of it, but it all paid off. Obviously, grades don’t mean everything, but they do help out. It also helps to have research experience, so if you’re not currently involved, don’t be afraid to reach out to a professor and ask to join their lab.”

Finally, Singh said that that being passionate and showing this passion is very important. “Chase your dreams as hard as you can, and never stop,” she said. “It is truly a meaningful piece of advice because it is how I got to where I am today. I have endured failure and have made mistakes and will continue to do so but that did not stop me. I kept on trying and landed my dream internship and my passion and determination helped me get there.”

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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