MITRE Internships Show Cyber Career Paths

October 2016
Nick Brown, Gabriel Pascualy, Seth Norton, Danielle Zelin
MITRE cybersecurity interns get hands-on experience in Bedford, Massachusetts.

MITRE Internships Show Cyber Career Paths 

Getting real-world experience is one of the most important things students gain from a MITRE internship. But for students in computer or network-security related fields who haven't found their niche, the opportunity to learn about and explore multiple aspects of MITRE's expansive cybersecurity capabilities can be as important as the work itself.

To find out more, we spoke to several interns from summer 2016 about how their experiences influenced their career choices going forward.

Branching Out from Academics

While internships at MITRE often require learning some new skills, they still complement a student’s academic experience. "I find that most things I've learned in school are applicable here," said Nick Brown, a graduate student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. "The internship relates very much to what I've learned already, but requires some new information as well. The general concepts are still there even if, for example, the programming language is different."

MITRE cybersecurity interns get many opportunities to explore different areas of the field. Gabriel Pascualy, a University of Michigan student, took part in three different projects over the summer. "The first focused on assumptions and requirements for the Internet of Things. The second is a competition involving embedded systems security design. And the third focused on intrusion detection to determine if a system has been compromised."

Pascualy said he appreciated the exposure to a broad expanse of different areas within cybersecurity. His projects required both programming and research. "The way you conducted each project was so different, but then you got engrossed in them. For me, I tend to do that more so with programming. But now I have a much greater interest in embedded security."

Danielle Zelin, who attends Tufts University, was involved in the same intrusion detection project as Pascualy. She also worked on a similar project that focused on embedded systems. "We started by identifying what shouldn't change in those systems, and then developed tests to detect if any changes occurred," Zelin said. "It was very objective. You have the freedom here to explore and find the solution that works the best."

But while the interns get to explore the best way to tackle their assignments, they're never forced to go it alone—full-time staffers were available to support them throughout the summer.

"If I had questions that I couldn't answer on my own, I could always go to my mentors," said Seth Norton, also a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. "They were very open and willing to help me."

Cybersecurity Isn't Just One Thing

For interns who were already familiar with the subject of their work, there were other ways to learn more about the cybersecurity field and the variety of things that can be done within it. MITRE's Gabby Raymond served as a mentor to the cybersecurity interns and organized several events for them.

"We had opportunities for interns to talk with full-time employees in cybersecurity about their position and role at MITRE, to see how they fit into the bigger picture," she said. Raymond also had researchers come in to discuss their experience and things they learned in the field. In addition, she organized an overnight "hackathon" event.

"I went to a few of the events; they were pretty interesting and insightful," Brown said. "We had a MITRE employee come in who had received an award from the Air Force for his work. It was really cool to see how close he was to the action."

Norton said even if the talks didn't spark a change to a new area of focus, they still presented interesting information. "I liked attending the project talks because I could discover things I didn't know about before," he said. "Even if someone might not want to pursue a career in that particular aspect of cybersecurity, it was helpful to learn about new and different capabilities."

The combination of projects that varied in focus and the opportunities to explore new areas provided the cybersecurity interns with much more than just experience in a corporate environment. A MITRE internship offered them a chance to find a specific area of work they enjoy—something they are passionate about doing.

"Before MITRE, I didn't know what exactly I wanted to do in cybersecurity or what track I wanted to take," Zelin said. "My experience here helped me figure that out. After my exposure to the capabilities of embedded systems security, I knew I wanted to go back to school and get more involved in it."

—by Emily Ready

Editor's note: Emily Ready is a University of South Carolina undergraduate who wrote this article while an intern in MITRE's Corporate Communications & Public Affairs division during summer 2016.

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