So you want to intern a NASA? I don’t blame you! In my biased opinion, it’s one of the best places to intern!
Here’s a fun fact: you don’t have to be in STEM to intern at NASA. Yes, you can intern and work at NASA and not be an engineer or scientists! They need people in business, finance, law, science communications, writing, animation, video and audio production, virtual reality, history and so much more!
I’ve completed 4 internships at NASA with USRA, or Universities Space Research Association, as a science engagement and communications intern, while I was studying science journalism. My first two internships were at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas; my first internship was as a science engagement intern in the astromaterials division and the second was a writer in the safety division, but I wrote about the impacts of Hurricane Harvey on the space center in 2017. My third and fourth internships were at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, as a social media and science engagement intern with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
There are many different types of internships at NASA. One is called Pathways, where you can intern in school and when you graduate, you may become a full-time civil servant (but these are highly competitive and really hard to get). You can be an intern with a contractor, like with Jacobs Tech or MORI Associates, which is a little less competitive but less frequent. The most popular option is with USRA, or Universities Space Research Association, which is what I did. Nearly all NASA internships, whether it’s Pathways or USRA or with a contractor, are paid. HOWEVER, if you get an internship with USRA, you file your taxes as a 1099, so you have a few thousand dollars to pay back once you file, which really sucks. (They don’t tell you this and I didn’t know this when I first got my internships, so I was screwed during tax season. Trust me, it’s important so save a chunk of your money to pay this.)
Here are a few tips for prospective NASA interns that I think could help. These tips are aimed at USRA internships, but I’m sure that it’s all similar.
1) Be a U.S. citizen.
I’m sorry to all of my international friends, but it’s really challenging to get an internship at NASA if you’re not a U.S. citizen (if you’re from Puerto Rico, you’re a U.S. citizen so you can intern at NASA!).
2) Be in college.
For basically all NASA internships, you HAVE to be in college. There’s no age limit, so you can be any age and complete a NASA internship, you just have to be in college and be able to prove it with a transcript. If you’re a high school senior and are attending college in the fall, you can complete a NASA internship the summer before you start college if you can prove that you’re enrolled, as well as if you have experience in your chosen field.
3) Have prior experience in *something* in your chosen field before you apply.
Before I got my first NASA internship, I applied 3 (!!) times. But, each of these times, I didn’t have previous experience in my field. However, once I got a student science journalist position at my university’s observatory, I landed my first internship. Get. That. Experience.
4) Fill out your application in its entirety and have someone review it for you.
There’s a lot of steps to the application process, including references and what is essentially a “letter of interest.” Fill it out and be detailed. Copy edit and check it again before submitting.
5) Prepare for the interview.
The questions that they ask are like a basic job interview, but if you haven’t had a real job interview before, it’s terrifying; not to mention that it’s for a dream internship at NASA. Prepare for things like, “What has been your biggest challenge thus far in your college career?” “What was a time that you overcame conflict in a group?” “How does your experience apply to this internship?” Try doing mock-interviews with someone. Also, DO YOUR RESEARCH! Research the organization or project that you’re interviewing for. If you don’t research and know what the International Space Station or OSIRIS-REx space mission are, then you have no chance of getting an internship. The people who interview you will either be the intern coordinators or project managers (who will likely be your mentors).
6) Send a follow-up email to the intern coordinators and project managers (if they interview you).
Say thank you for your time and consideration. Let them know that it means a lot to you and you really want that internship. If you haven’t heard back in two weeks, email again. They won’t send you an email if you didn’t get the internship, so you’ll have to check-in with the coordinators. You might not get a response back, but at least you tried, right?
7) Be patient.
I’m serious. This is the #1 thing that I am horrible with because I have zero patience. But this is the government, and the government notoriously takes forever to do anything, and internships are no exception. Good things come to those who wait, right?
Thank you for reading! Do you want to apply for a NASA internship? Have you ever completed a NASA internship before? Let me know in the comments below and like this post if you want more like it!