Science Writing Internship
Former science writing intern Sarah Hansen
SERC's science writing internship program is for anyone who loves learning about science and crafting stories to explain it! As a SERC science writing intern, you'll interact with Smithsonian scientists, interns and educators. Your work will appear on SERC's Shorelines blog and in SERC's On The Edge print newsletter. You'll also gain social media experience, creating posts for SERC's Facebook (@Smithsonian.SERC), Twitter (@SmithsonianEnv) and Instagram (@smithsonianenvironment) accounts.
We will be offering one science writing internship in 2023, for 11 weeks in the summer. The internship is open to undergraduate students, master's students and recent graduates up to one year after graduation. Interns can work remotely, on-site or in a hybrid style—we've made it work all three ways!
Summer Science Writing Internship (Virtual or In-Person)
Mentor: Kristen Goodhue (science writer)
Duration: 11 weeks
Start Date: Flexible, sometime in June
Deadline to apply: Feb. 15, 2023
The summer science writing intern will gain experience with all facets of SERC communication. Main priorities include interviewing research scientists and interns, reading new scientific studies and writing blog pieces about the latest SERC projects and discoveries. Other responsibilities include creating content for social media, helping produce the On The Edge print newsletter and updating the SERC website.
Desired Qualifications: Strong scientific background (some natural science coursework; not required to be a science major) and a flair for writing about science for a nonscientific audience.
Apply online through the Smithsonian Online Academic Appointments system (SOLAA). The 11-week summer science writing internship requires one letter of reference. For the science writing internship, the application must also include one to three writing samples explaining science in a public-friendly way. Put these in the essay/personal statement portion of the application, after your essay. Writing samples can include school papers, student newspaper articles or pieces you've written for a personal blog—anything that tells a story about science in a nontechnical, engaging way! Multimedia pieces are also welcome, as long as at least one of the samples is written. Multimedia samples should be included as links in the Personal Statement, or as attachments in an email to Kristen Goodhue. Total length of all writing samples should be no more than 10 double-spaced pages (not including your personal essay). See you Science Writing Internship FAQs tab for more information and tips for writing samples.
Pro tip for applicants: Don't just talk about your past experience. Show us how this internship would give you something new! Smithsonian internships are meant to be learning experiences, especially for students who have had fewer opportunities outside of schoolwork. Let your application reviewers know how this experience would benefit you beyond another line on a resume.
Tips for applying on SOLAA (because we know it's confusing):
1. Register at the Smithsonian Online Academic Appointments system (SOLAA).
2. Once you have set up an account, click the yellow Start Your Application button.
3. Under Program Category, Choose Internship. Under Office/Museum/Research Center drop-down menu, select Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Click the blue Search button.
4. Smithsonian Environmental Research Center Internship Program will appear under the search results. Choose the green Apply Now button.
5. After completing the first few pages of the application (personal and academic info), you'll reach a section called "Program Choices." You can choose up to 3 labs/programs to apply for at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
6. In the Personal Statement/Essay portion of the application, write your statement and then copy your writing samples underneath it. At least one writing sample must be written. If you have any multimedia samples you wish to include, either copy links to them or email them as attachments to Kristen Goodhue (email@example.com)
The Smithsonian Institution is an equal opportunity employer, committed to a policy of non-discrimination on the basis of race/ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, age, religion, martial/parental/caregiver status, and disability. The community at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center recognizes the value of diversity in promoting innovative science and creative solutions, and we strongly encourage candidates from all backgrounds to apply. We recognize that each applicant for this role will bring unique skills, knowledge, experiences, and background to this position. As such, while candidates must meet the minimum qualifications related to education and student/alum eligibility for Smithsonian internships, we will be looking for candidates who possess many, but not necessarily all, of the skills and experiences listed above.
Can I work remotely for the science writing internship?
Yes. The science writing intern can be on-site, remote, or a combination of the two. We make that decision after we select the intern, based on the intern’s needs and preferences. We’ve made it work all three ways.
What should I highlight in my personal statement?
Tell us why you’re interested in science writing, and what you hope to learn from the internship. If you’re also applying for an internship with one of SERC’s research labs, education or citizen science programs, it’s fine to mention your interest in those fields as well. We know how important it is to cultivate multiple options! Just make sure to work your interest in science writing somewhere in your personal statement as well.
Another important tip to make your statement stand out: Don’t just play up past experiences. We don’t expect our interns to have stellar resumes yet! Since Smithsonian internships are meant to be learning experiences for students who have had fewer opportunities, tell us what experiences you hope to gain that you haven’t had already.
Where on the application do I submit my writing samples?
In the Personal Statement/Essay section. After writing your personal statement, copy and paste your writing samples directly beneath. Make sure to note where your personal statement ends and your writing samples begin.
What kinds of writing samples are you looking for?
Anything that describes science in a way that’s engaging, accessible and not overly technical. Unpublished school papers and articles for a college/university newspaper are some of the most typical examples. While you can submit multimedia if you like, at least one sample needs to be a standard written piece. Writing samples don’t have to be about environmental science. However, if your article deals with a non-physical science (like psychology, sociology or anthropology), make sure to highlight any natural science background elsewhere in your application. Not sure if you’re clip is “science-y” enough? Use this test: Does your article take something complex, and break it down in a clear, engaging way for general readers?
Note: If multiple people contributed to a piece you’re submitting, please highlight or otherwise note the portions that reflect your writing. The only type of writing sample we don’t encourage are Q&As. They’re a great way to highlight interesting voices, but they don’t tell us much about how YOU write.
Do my writing samples have to be published?
Definitely not. Papers assigned for class, unpublished “mock” block pieces, or even random musings you wrote down in a journal can all count as writing samples.
What counts as a “multimedia sample”? How do I submit a multimedia piece?
Videos, audio files, infographics, illustrations, or interactive data visualizations all count as multimedia samples. Some intern applicants have even submitted comics. The general rule of thumb for “multimedia” is that there be more visual, audio or interactive components versus text. Since the online SOLAA system doesn’t allow uploading of multimedia pieces, the best way to submit them is to upload them to a shared folder, like Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, or Dropbox. Then include a link to your multimedia samples in the personal statement section, along with your other writing samples.
Do I have to submit a multimedia sample to be a strong applicant?
Absolutely not! Plenty of interns have gotten the position with only traditional writing samples. The quality of your writing and your ability to break down a complex topic really are what count the most. That’s the reason we require at least one regular written sample, and we don’t require multimedia.
How many hours per week should I expect to work for this internship?
SERC internships are full-time, so you can expect to work a full 40-hour workweek, Monday through Friday. If you’re working remotely, hours can be based on your time zone (so West Coast interns would work from 8am-4:30pm or 9am-5:30pm Pacific Time, not Eastern Time).
I live outside the U.S. Am I still eligible for this internship?
Unfortunately, we've had to put a pause on hiring international interns at SERC for now, due to legal restrictions for interns working remotely from foreign countries, as well as backlogs in processing for on-site international interns. We hope to be able to resume hiring international students soon!
I’m a Ph.D. candidate. Am I still eligible for this internship?
It depends. The Smithsonian caps eligibility for internships at one year after completing an undergraduate or master’s degree. If you already completed a master’s degree over a year ago, then no. If you did NOT complete a master’s degree before starting your Ph.D., we consider the first two years of a Ph.D. equivalent to a master’s degree. In that case, if you’re in your third year or earlier of your Ph.D., you would still be eligible.
Why does the Smithsonian cap eligibility at one year after a master’s?
The Smithsonian views internships as learning experiences for students who haven’t had as many opportunities to gain real-world experience outside school. For that reason, we try to keep them open to students at earlier stages of their professional development.
Whom should I request to write recommendation letters?
Any mentor figure outside of your family who can comment on your motivation and approach toward work. College professors or former supervisors (for paid or unpaid/volunteer positions) are both good examples. Don’t feel pressured to have someone in a certain field, like ecology or journalism, write your recommendation. It’s most important to have someone who knows you as a person and can comment on the intangibles: your work ethic, your drive, your ability to work with others and your reliability.
What if my recommendation writers don’t meet the Feb. 15 deadline?
SERC generally allows a 2-week grace period for recommendation letters to come in, since we know this part of the process is partly beyond the applicant’s control. It’s always best to give your recommenders plenty of notice and encourage them to submit their letters by the deadline. Many times the email link sent to referees goes into spam folder and is missed, so please remind your referees to check those folders as well.
What if one of my recommendation writers is having trouble submitting their letter in SOLAA?
Have your recommender email their letter directly to Dan Gustafson (GustafsonD@si.edu), noting whose application the letter goes with. We will be able to upload their letter to your application in SOLAA.
It’s almost midnight on Feb. 15, and the SOLAA system is down! How do I submit my application?
First, don’t panic. The SOLAA system sometimes has down periods on the last night of the application window, since it processes applications for the entire Smithsonian. Try again every 30 minutes or so until it lets you in. If it’s after midnight EST before you can submit your application, don’t worry. We generally allow a few hours’ grace period on the morning of Feb. 16 because we know this can happen. In the meantime, fix yourself a cup of hot tea, coffee, cocoa or whatever helps you destress.