Pack your bags, travel to Geneva and experience it yourself: behind the scenes of CERN's Summer Student Programme

It’s June 1st, an important date in the CERN Talent Acquisition team calendar as we prepare to welcome the first of the Summer Students (or ‘Summies’ as they are affectionately known) who take part in the 2017 edition of the programme in a couple of days. It’s been a long road to get to this happy day: Jenny and Eszter, coordinators of the Member State Summer student programme, tell us more about what has been going on these past months, behind the scenes…

If this account inspires you, take note: the next call for applications opens next October, so get ready, get set, go! Cern.ch/summies

Jenny, Eszter, When did the process actually start?

It began last October, 2016, when we published the call for applications for the Member State programme. As a reminder, this programme is for students studying for a Bachelor or Master’s degree in Physics, engineering or computing to spend from 8 to 13 weeks at CERN to work on a technical project and follow a series of lectures which has especially been prepared for them. By January 27th 2017, closing date for applications, we’d received over 3000 applications, not to mention an ever increasing number of emails as we approached the deadline, queries and questions that made our days longer and longer to get through the volume (sometimes 100 per day and we answer them all). We both went through the applications checking their match with eligibility criteria, and after this, 2000 were put forward to the CERN pre-selection committee for evaluation, who ensure a fair distribution of the opportunities among CERN member and associate member states.

There are many people involved in the whole process every year, and clearly we are grateful to them all as this is a huge team effort! Kristina who oversees the Openlab programme, Natalia who coordinates the non-member state programme, the lecture programme committee, speakers, workshop organisers, and many many more!

What do the pre-selectors look for in an application?

It is a combination of many things. As a key programme representing CERN’s role as a unique environment for education and training, excellence is a criterion, so they look at academic grades, motivation, any relevant extra-curricular activities, relevant experience (internships, voluntary work), references while ensuring a fair distribution across the different universities.

Almost 900 were then submitted to supervisors throughout CERN who had proposed a project to host a summer student. Many supervisors would like to have a student but not all projects are approved. From 3000 to 2000 to 900 to 150: it’s a real succession of steps, and an adventure from beginning to end!

Ultimately, 340 students from 90 countries have been selected to take part in the programme as a whole (including the Non-Member state and Openlab programmes)

What happens once the selections are made?

Students are assigned to a project, and contacted by their future supervisors to discuss what they will be doing and what they can expect from their time at CERN. What project they ultimately get is a surprise, but it is tailored to the field of study and the pre-defined areas of interest given by the students in their application. We deal with the communication in terms of contract and project descriptions to confirm their selection, so we are in constant contact with them throughout the period from selection to the end of their experience!

We have written a Summer Student handbook which is full of useful info about the programme, activities, what to expect on arrival, on their first day, their working conditions, and much, much more!

What are the programme highlights from your perspective?

It’s the contact, accompanying students from A-Z, guiding and advising them to ensure a rich and exciting experience at CERN and in the Geneva area which is a great place to be in the Summer months.

We are there to welcome them on their first day, and there are five arrival dates between  6th June and the beginning of July. We then see them at lectures, at the various events organised, and any time they have a question they come to see us!

We’re really looking forward to meeting them all, to see their excitement and happiness to be here. It’s incredible, they’re all so motivated and eager to learn! This is wonderfully illustrated by feedback gathered in previous years (see some quotes from our last year’s students at the end of this interview).

And the challenges?

Organising the lecture programme with the CERN committee, logistics, 6 tailored visits for each student (for example of the data centre, the Control Room, the Synchrocyclotron and more), workshops, and of course ensuring that everyone, summer students and supervisors, are getting the most out of the summer internship. What is great is that students from the previous years have given feedback on the programme content, the experience and we can continuously improve things for the future Summies! It’s a form of legacy, which grows each year.

And as some come back as technical students after this experience, they get to meet and support the next generations….

As coordinators we are also the contact persons for various services and stakeholders at CERN and we have to ensure that our students also abide by CERN’s Code of Conduct which is a practical guide built on CERN's five core values, Integrity, Commitment, Professionalism, Creativity and Diversity which helps us to provide the basis for a respectful and fulfilling environment at CERN.

What can a student expect from a Summer at CERN?

It’s a very rich work experience which goes beyond work alone: they experience the 6 week lecture programme, with speakers from CERN and other institutes with talks on physics, accelerators, engineering, maths and more. The Director General is very proud of this programme and also gives a talk to all summer students. All lectures are recorded and anyone can watch them, anytime.

They will also take part in workshops, attend the Webfest organised by Openlab and attend a poster session where they get to present their work, and this is attended by CERN Directors and supervisors. The Summer student drink is a highlight as ALL students gather, get to know one another, forge friendships and network. Previous student groups have arranged trips to European cities, mountain hikes, barbecues, attended music festivals… It’s lively and enjoyable. There is also the annual summer student t-Shirt design contest which is always great fun and proof of the wonderful creativity that comes from bringing together such a diverse group of people. In a nutshell? Expect a rich experience and great support from CERN.

What advice would you have for students wishing to take part next year?

As illustrated by the numbers above, it’s a very competitive process: don’t take it lightly, be specific and authentic in your motivation and detail what interests you, what experience you have. Put care into your application, write a clear CV – you need to convince on paper!

And if you tried this year but were not successful, provided you still match the criteria of the programme, don’t hesitate to re-apply!

What are the key quotes from students that sum it up for you?

“It is a chance to be more mature at work and in life. I have adapted to work ethics and environment, and enjoyed an exceptional international experience with smart people.”

“Summer student program at CERN took internships to a whole new level. I've never thought work can motivate me to wake up early in the morning every day.”

 “It is the most amazing place one can ever dream of. The opportunity to work with scientist and engineers from all across the globe makes it remarkable and best summer.”

“I cannot imagine that I will see summer like this again in my life. You cannot find summer program like this anywhere in the world because it so, so unique, diverse and multi-disciplinary. I am so glad that I was here and I encourage others to be a part of this incredible program as well.”

“The best summer of my life: being part of the world's greatest experiment, working in a stimulating research environment, following lectures from world-class lecturers, participating in hands-on workshops and meeting friends from all over the world, discovering this beautiful part of Europe and enjoying the summer!”

“This is a really good opportunity for young scientists to build a solid foundation for their future endeavor. I wish all the very best and good luck for CERN to continue this program as long as they can and thank you very much for this wonderful opportunity.”

 “Intense, challenging, enlightening”

“It was the most educating, challenging and decisive time of my life, I learned exactly what future I would like to pursue and where I aspire to be.”

"The CERN Summer Student Programme is an awesome opportunity to dig deep into the world of particle physics and everything that is connected to that. So basically everything, from socializing over engineering to deep theories about the world."

"The CERN summer student programme cannot be put into words.This is the only way to understand how mind-blowing it is."