NASA Internship Experience
Alisa Leshchenko (Mathematics & Data Science, Hunter College ’23)
Hi! My name is Alisa, and I’m a NASA (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration) Spring ’22 intern. My project will help NASA to provide researchers working on GES DISC (Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center) data with additional information they may find useful. For example, when a researcher looks at a certain dataset, we would like to also offer them How To pages related to that dataset. To achieve this, I will be building a knowledge graph (KD) using Neo4j, a graph database management system. Unlike an RDB (relational database), which stores data in tables, a graph database stores data in the form of a graph. This is especially useful in cases where you expect entries to refer to one another frequently. This KD will be built using metadata — data attached to every dataset, How To document, FAQ page, etc. The metadata contains information like the mission a dataset came from or the data format a How To addresses. Taken together, the metadata can be used to form connections between different objects based on shared properties. Once the KD is complete, I will apply Graph Machine Learning techniques and NLP (natural language processing) to extract additional insights about the relationships between the various assets GES DISC makes available to the research community. This project ties into my goal of pursuing a Ph.D. in a field related to ML/AI (Meta Language/Artificial Intelligence).
I applied to this internship through the NASA STEM Gateway (nasacentral.force.com). I applied for 15 NASA internships simultaneously to increase my chances; if you choose to apply to multiple internships, I recommend keeping open a document with your answers because unfortunately at present, the portal doesn’t allow you to reuse answers between applications! It also doesn’t allow you to backtrack during certain parts of the application, so if something is entered incorrectly, you may need to start over. It’s possible this has been changed since I applied.
Something that may not be common knowledge is that NASA looks for a minimum GPA of 3.0 for most internships, so it’s not necessary to be a perfect student. One thing that I think really helped my application was using my classes last semester to learn Neo4j and NLP: I singled out a few internships I found particularly interesting and structured my final projects in such a way that I would have the chance to learn the most uncommon tools those internships were looking for. For STEM internships, it also helps to list all your technical skills (this can take a while using the interface) and include a link to your GitHub page.
On that note, not all the internships in the STEM portal are STEM! There are opportunities within marketing, communications, the arts (I saw some awesome artwork created by NASA interns), and even philosophy. Lastly, most of the internships are 40 hours/week (some are 20 hours/week), and you wouldn’t be able to take more than two classes if you chose to do a full-time internship during the school semester. The hours will generally not appear on an internship description, so it’s something to keep in mind. That being said, mentors do offer flexibility if you need to take time off to study.
My experience with my project and my mentors has been very positive, and I really encourage you to apply! If you have any questions along the way, you can find me or Matthew Pearce (the NASA Education Program Specialist) on LinkedIn.