NCCS Summer Interns Completed Successful Season Despite COVID-19
Researchers and staff combined efforts to offer learning support and adequate resources to students participating in the summer internship program
Thanks to the efforts of dozens of scientists and support staff, and despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, summer interns in the National Center for Computational Sciences (NCCS) recently completed their learning season on a high note.
One of those students, Jenna Delozier, a 2020 Maryville College graduate with a major in mathematics and a minor in computer science, was luckily able to navigate some of the new challenges successfully to complete her internship in August. She had been interning at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) throughout her senior year, learning about high performance computing and future technologies.
A highlight of her internship was taking part in Team Tennessee, a group of young researchers from ORNL, University of Tennessee, Pellissippi State Community College, and Maryville College who competed in the 2019 Student Cluster Competition. The competition is one of the annual Supercomputing Conference events designed for students to showcase their knowledge in high performance computing.
With her most recent experience, Delozier has worked to optimize a code for the Summit supercomputer at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF), a US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science user facility.
“During my time here, I helped optimize a program that was originally written by my mentor, and this work ended up being my senior thesis,” she explained.
Just like Delozier and thousands of others, post-master’s intern Shubhankar Gahlot was working on campus until mid-March, when the pandemic started and forced him to switch his lab workstation home.
“I have been interning at ORNL since 2018 and this whole situation makes me miss my peers, because they have been so kind and helpful to me in my learning journey,” said Gahlot, who is currently working on an article about a multialgorithm tool aimed at improving the accuracy of results for problems running on high performance computers.
Having earned his master’s degree in Data Science from the Illinois Institute of Technology two years ago, Gahlot is now entering his third and final year of post-master’s internship at ORNL.
“I first got here when Summit was about to start functioning. It was a very exciting thing to witness. Most of the work I’m currently doing, I learned through this internship at the lab. It has enriched my career very much, including during these uncertain times,” he said.
Conquering New Challenges
Although a completely remote internship experience was certainly challenging, OLCF Director of Science Bronson Messer thinks both the interns and their mentors made the most of trying circumstances. “I think the interns would agree that their experiences will help them in their future endeavors, and we can’t wait to see all the great things they will accomplish,” he said.
Indeed, researchers and staff saw the pandemic as an opportunity to put creativity in play, offering online talks with researchers as well as a live online tour of the user facility. “This is something we do every year, so we wanted to make sure 2020 was not the exception. We couldn’t bring them here, but we could bring the user facility to them through a screen,” said Rachel Harken, OLCF science writer and one of the tour guides along with OLCF Project Director Justin Whitt.
In the meantime, mentors were working very hard to make sure they could make the interns feel supported and comfortable.
“In my case, I was lucky enough to have already worked with my intern in person before this happened, but the crisis still presented other challenges,” said NCCS computational scientist Dmytro Bykov. “I made notes throughout the day to make sure I could arrive well prepared to our meetings. There are so many things we tend to say while sharing coffee or when we see someone on the hallway, and that’s no longer possible. Flexibility has been the key to this experience.”
For Delozier, conquering these obstacles allowed her more than just finishing a successful summer internship at ORNL. In July, she started working as a research software engineer in the Computer Science and Mathematics Division (CSMD).
“Even though 2020 has been a challenging year for all of us, ORNL’s support has allowed me to conquer some very important milestones,” said Delozier. “If anything, I have learned to adapt, and I am now starting to consider online master’s programs, so I can continue my work here at the lab.”
Gahlot is equally inspired. He said, “I haven’t made a final decision yet, but I am considering pursuing a doctorate in the future. My time at ORNL has opened my horizons on so many interesting questions worth pursuing.”
UT-Battelle LLC manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory for DOE’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.