Experiencing day-to-day research: Five weeks as an intern at the MPSD

„Studying physics can open many doors for me – from research right through to project management.“ This is the conclusion Wiebke Kohlbrecher has reached after spending five weeks as an intern at the MPSD. It was a productive time, she says: On the one hand she was able to immerse herself in the Institute's fundamentalresearch, on the other she realized that physicists can pursue an enormous range of careers. The 20-year-old joined the Condensed Matter Dynamics Department (Andrea Cavalleri) in early March. She had applied through Hamburg's proTechnicale program, which offers female school-leavers an orientation year in STEM professions.

Her stay at the Institute gave Wiebke a realistic insight into the day-to-day work of researchers at the MPSD. Some aspects matched her expectations, such as the wide range of tasks they accomplish. Others were rather unexpected for her, including the relaxed, welcoming atmosphere at the Institute. Wiebke, who passed her Abitur (German advanced leaving certificate) in 2022, quickly became part of the team led by Michael Först, Senior Scientist in the Cavalleri Department. In keeping with the spirit of the internship, this meant hands-on work: She was involved in performing and evaluating an infrared spectroscopy measurement to determine the phonon spectrum of a boron phosphate sample and learned methods for the microstructuring of electrical circuits from physical-technical assistant Elena König. From the third week onwards, she independently constructed an optical setup in the laser lab which will soon be integrated into a larger experiment.

“The setup is a kind of Michelson interferometer, which we had already covered extensively in the physics advanced course at school. Nevertheless, a lot of things here were obviously totally new to me and I learned something different every day,“ says Wiebke. “I applied for the internship because I have always enjoyed physics so much that I considered it for my degree. But I was never quite sure. I used the internship to get a taste of the everyday work of scientists and this will help me to make a good decision for my future.“

A cognitive science degree has also been in the running – “a mixture of computer science and neurology, where you mainly deal with artificial intelligence and brain / machine interfaces,“ she explains. Right now, Wiebke favors a physics degree again. But whatever degree course she decides on in the end: Thanks to the internships, she has a much better idea of what she might encounter in her future working life. The program includes a total of three work experience stays so that the interns gain as broad a range of professional experience as possible. At the start of the year, Wiebke had a placement at Airbus and she is now getting ready for a six-week internship in Spain over the summer.

The fee-based proTechnicale program is aimed at female high school graduates considering a career in science-related fields, where women are still underrepresented. During the program, they establish their first contacts with companies and universities and gain many relevant skills, from programming to job application training and personal development.

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