Statistics internships form win-win partnerships

December 13, 2011 under CANR News

Graduate statistics interns (from left) Chenyi Yang, Professor Tom Ilvento, Lu Shu, Lingqiong Guo, Yangyang Zhang, Qian Li. [Photo by Kathy Atkinson

The graduate internship program in the M.S. in statistics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources sends students every year into leading companies to work, learn and grow in their field. Although the internship is optional, almost all the program’s students take advantage of the opportunity.

The DuPont Company is the longest-standing corporate participant in the statistics internship program and sponsors the most interns. DuPont has been with the program since 2001 and currently hosts seven interns at two locations. Other participants are Chase, ING, Barclays, Bank of America, AstraZeneca and Condé Nast, which has a more than eight year relationship with the program.

A year-long opportunity brings meaningful benefits

Statistics students spend a year in their internship positions. Longer than the more typical summer internship, the year-long arrangement gives students more opportunity to utilize what they are learning and more time to develop and grow in the job. Companies love it because they make the most of the resources they spend on training and get longer access to their already-trained interns.

The host companies have real work to do and real needs to fill when they hire a UD statistics intern. They often comment on how well prepared the interns are, and, in fact, they have had one year of core graduate study that prepares them for the often complex work they will face as interns.

Tom Ilvento, professor and graduate director and coordinator of the program, stresses that the program works hard to ensure that the interns’ experience is meaningful. “We want to place students in a work environment where they have the ability to apply the skills they learn in their courses. The goal is for the students to provide leadership in at least one project during the internship.” In turn, the students are required to report on their activities via presentations and papers.

An opportunity for teamwork

Qian Li, currently an intern at the DuPont Experimental Station, is excited about the real experience she is gaining in industry. “I like the chance to work with and talk to professional people. Both statisticians and biologists. They are very knowledgeable and very anxious to teach us interns the things we will need in our professional lives,” she says.

Lu Su, interning at DuPont’s Stein-Haskell Lab in Newark, echoes her fellow student’s thoughts. When asked about the best aspects of the internship, she quickly replies, “Teamwork.” She says she appreciates the opportunity to work with a multifaceted team of statisticians, biologists and fellow interns, each of whom brings his or her own special strengths and skills to the project. She adds, “We have the opportunity to put our skills to use on real data and see how it all works in reality.”

Credibility in the workplace

The market for individuals with graduate degrees in statistics is excellent, points out Ilvento, and all of the program’s graduates find work in the field. He credits the fact that they each already have a year’s work experience on their resumes with part of the success. “Work experience is crucial in the job search today,” he notes, “and these students have worked with real companies on real problems.”

Joe Scocas interned at DuPont Crop Protection Products as a master’s student in statistics and was later hired as a statistician by the company. Thinking back on his internship experience, he comments, “Even though I had previous work experience the internship was beneficial for me since it gave me the opportunity to participate in the working environment of my chosen profession. Scocas continues, “My internship gave me a meaningful frame of reference to better understand the new statistical concepts I studied in class. Working in an environment like DuPont Crop Protection enables you to see how ideas work together and help us understand a more complex situation.”

Scocas has found the work at DuPont Crop Protection Products personally rewarding. “We are dedicated to discovering products that can directly impact the world’s food supply, both in terms of availability and affordability,” he says. “DuPont statisticians and, in turn, the interns from the University of Delaware work on projects and with scientists from all over the world, providing them with a memorable experience that ultimately can help define their professional goals and further their career.”

Scocas now supervises UD interns at DuPont. “I believe that my experience as a former intern allows me to understand the needs and strengths of current students. I can help them advance their learning and understanding of the contribution statistics provides to research and development, as well as increase the benefit that DuPont receives from this relationship.”

UD’s Department of Food and Resource Economics benefits from the internships as well. The internships help them build linkages with industry. Some of the individuals who began as internship program contacts at partner companies have become adjunct instructors in the UD statistics program, bringing their current, real-world knowledge into the classroom. Plus, the contacts help the department get a better understanding of what companies need employees to know and what the problems in today’s work world are.

“The internship program gives us a finger on the pulse of what working statisticians are currently doing in very applied settings,” says Ilvento. “It is very easy to be theoretical at the University,” he continues, “but the world is practical.”

By Tara White Kee

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of Professional Education News.

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