For those wanting to enter the ever-evolving world of science and technology, research laboratories are gateways that play a pivotal role in driving innovation and discovery. One such institution is the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) seventeen national laboratories that focus on key scientific disciplines — chemistry, earth sciences, biology, and data analytics. If you are a high school student interested in these fields, the PNNL offers a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience of working at the cutting edge of science through their varied internship programs.
What are the PNNL Internship programs?
The PNNL runs five comprehensive Internship Programs to provide high school students with real-world experience in research and/or business fields. There are both academic year internships, where you must balance your time between school and the PNNL laboratory, and summer internships, which are immersive experiences at the PNNL campus. In all cases, you will be paired with a mentor in a specific research or business area, closely working with them in your chosen field of study over the duration of the internship. Not only that, all internships also involve laboratory work, field trips, and communications and career awareness workshops.
Is a PNNL Internship Prestigious?
With over 3000 patents filed and 1700 research papers published by its 5000+ personnel, PNNL is at the forefront of STEM research and innovation in America. The US Department of Energy recognizes no fewer than 19 core capabilities of the PNNL, across chemical and material sciences, computational and mathematical sciences, earth and biological sciences, engineering and instrumentation. Given all this and its staggering $1.34B budget, the PNNL is arguably a prestigious and influential place to secure a STEM internship. Interning here will give you access to its vast knowledge base, state-of-the-art facilities and peerless faculty, all under the careful guidance of your expert mentor.
Eligibility and Selection Process
Each category of internships shows up as its own posting on the PNNL Careers page, against which you must apply. To be eligible for an internship, you must:
be currently enrolled in a public or private school and interested in pursuing a career in STEM or related field
be at least 16 years of age at the time the internship begins
be a sophomore, junior, or senior at the time of application
have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher (from 9th grade to current standing)
be able to commute to the laboratory location regularly
Each type of internship will also require you to provide the following documents bundled into a single PDF:
Cover Letter: This will be the first document viewed, so you’ll have to be as precise and convincing as possible as to why you are applying for the internship, and why your application should be considered.
Resume: Like any job application, you will naturally have to include your resume. Considering that you will be applying for a STEM internship, including details of any advanced placement courses you’ve done, or your programming/software skills, will be to your advantage. PNNL also requires you to provide at least two personal references.
Unofficial Transcript: Ask your counselor or work-based learning coordinator for a copy of your transcript.
Personal Statement: Beyond your academic achievements and hard skills, this is where you should talk about the kinds of activities, leadership, or impactful experiences you’ve had that contributed to your interest in STEM. A good personal statement focuses on what made you who you are and led to your interest in this career, and what your takeaway from this opportunity will be and how you intend to pay it forward.
Internship Details, Structures and Timelines
In all, the five PNNL internships for high schoolers are structured as follows:
High School Research Intern Program - this is the research-focused academic year internship offered by the PNNL. You will be attending regular school classes for half a day, followed by up to 4 hours of laboratory work at PNNL for 5 days a week with a scientist-mentor. Applications open in early February, and the internships take place during the academic year between August and May.
High School Business Intern Program - this is the business-focused academic year internship offered by the PNNL. It has the same 4 hours of laboratory work for 5 days a week as the research program, this time with a business mentor. Applications are similarly open in early February, with the program taking place between August and May.
Student Research Apprenticeship Program - PNNL’s summer internship program, where you will be working for 10 weeks full-time with a scientist-mentor. These internships take place between June and August.
Young Women in Science - this is exactly the same in duration and structure as the Student Research Apprenticeship, except that it specifically caters to young women applicants.
WDTS RENEW Pathway Summer School - this is PNNL’s immersive, cohort-based program dedicated to conducting research in the field of renewable energy. It is a 4-week program in which you will be spending three days a week at PNNL’s Richland campus or Sequim campus, and 1 day per week in virtual classes. The application deadline for this program is in May, and the program itself lasts the month of July.
Things to Consider + Pros and Cons of PNNL Internships
Before you apply for one of PNNL’s internships, think through the pros and cons of your decision:
Mentorship from industry experts - whichever program you choose, you will be working directly with scientists or business leaders who have made significant contributions in the STEM disciplines, and benefiting from their knowledge and guidance. PNNL’s Senior Research Fellows have earned worldwide recognition for their contributions to the scientific community.
Career clarity - aside from the internships themselves providing career awareness workshops, you will gain an understanding of career paths in STEM research through your own internship work as well as that of your mentor(s) and colleagues.
Real experience in STEM - working on live projects with mentors, at PNNL laboratories, will give you invaluable work experience that will hold you in good stead for the rest of your career.
Networking - working with industry leaders and attending workshops will bring you in touch with notable figures in the STEM world, potentially opening doors for your future education and work.
Profile advantage - having a PNNL internship on your profile will allow you to showcase your STEM knowledge, contribution and seriousness to any future admissions official or industry HR. Similar to how you would showcase any job on your resume, make sure to highlight the project you worked on during the internship, your key deliverables and of course any achievements or commendations from your mentor.
Age restrictions - due to legal restrictions, if you are below 18 years of age, PNNL will not be able to allow you to work in the laboratory itself, thus limiting your experience and learning.
Rigor - all of PNNL’s programs are as intensive as any real-world job, and juggling them with academic commitments may prove daunting. The key will be to adhere to the schedule and focus on your responsibilities while at school or at the lab. It might also require you to stretch often, whether in the evenings or on weekends. Depending on the internship, your mentor and your classes, you may be able to establish a looser structure that allows you to give a few days at a time to a school exam or a lab deliverable which will help tackle the workload.
Expense - the internships are all based out of Washington state. If you are attempting to move there from another state for the duration of the program, the expense may be sizable and prohibitive. PNNL does not, unfortunately, have a financial aid or scholarship program.
The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Internships offer high school students a unique opportunity to explore their interest in the world of STEM research and business. Despite the challenge of juggling what is essentially a part-time job with academic commitments, the benefits of real-world research experience, mentorship from professionals, and the prestige of working at a renowned lab like PNNL make these internships a valuable stepping stone for any young aspiring scientist or business professional. It can be hard to get a foot in the door here, but it is very much worth it if you are dead-set on a career in STEM research and have already been taking advanced courses and pursuing research opportunities. Conversely, the dedication and time commitment required makes these internships less desirable if your profile does not already have a strong bent toward STEM.
Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you are passionate about conducting research, you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.
Image Source: PNNL logo