My MITRE Journey: The Intern Edition

August 2018
Joshua Cobbins
Joshua Cobbins

College is the time of your life where you’re trying to figure out the great unknown. There's a lot of uncertainty in your life, such as: Where is the 10-page paper I wrote last night? How did I go from 100 dollars to 85 cents in a weekend? Most importantly, what is the next step in my life?

College prepares you for the "real world" in many ways—through academics, working with a diverse group of people, learning time management—and it instills a sense of independence. You need to exercise the knowledge gained in the classroom while seeking opportunities to learn off campus.

That's where internships come in—it’s a chance to get professional experience in the field of your choosing. Gaining this experience is challenging for most, including me. Internships are highly competitive these days, and they are increasingly hard to get as more students seek them out to build their resumes.

When I started applying for internships this spring, I found myself stuck. At 21 years old, most people don't know what they want to do with their lives. Since many individuals in my generation are attempting to continue their education, internships are more competitive and require a lot more just to get into the "maybe" pile in the HR office.

After receiving a few rejection letters, I came across a job posting for a Communication and Outreach Internship position for MITRE. This post looked promising and aligned with my professional goals.

With my track record, I didn’t think anything would happen after I applied, but I was wrong. I received an interview and felt an immediate connection to the organization—the kind you get when you know something is meant to be—all joy and zero doubt. I was right—a week later I received an offer.  

Maryland, here I come!

My Work Experience

I knew that the work I would be doing would be vital to the mission of the MITRE-operated National Cybersecurity FFRDC (NCF), which is located in Rockville, Maryland. The NCF is the nation’s first and only cybersecurity federally funded research and development center. My job would support the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (NCCoE)—the NCF's principal work program sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Among other things, the NCCoE staff produces practice guides that organizations and industry can adapt to make the world safer against cyber-attacks.

My first day at MITRE was one I’ll never forget. The team welcomed me with open arms and support. They told me they couldn't wait for me to join them and were eager to see the things I could offer.

Now call me crazy, but it's every college student’s dream to hear something like that. In my interview, I said I wanted my internship experience to be a real work experience. At that moment, I knew that's exactly what I was going to get.

I had many challenges along the way. For starters, I considered myself a good writer until I wrote my first technical blog. I had no experience with that kind of writing—translating information from a project into something everyone could understand. (I imagined my grandmother as my target audience.) Then, my next assignment—a practice review guide review—was also very difficult. This experience helped me realize that there are more ways to discover problems in documents than I had ever imagined.

I completed every challenging assignment I received, thanks in part to the mentors I had along the way. The team made sure that when I struggled, I had the resources and expertise I needed. My confidence grew because they believed I could handle any task that came my way. I had the opportunity to contribute to the same projects and tasks that the full-time professionals were working on. I wasn’t a "coffee jockey" and was treated like an equal.

The End of the Road

Overall, my experience as a MITRE intern leveled me above my peers. It was everything I could have asked for and more. I would encourage other students to apply for a MITRE internship. I can say with confidence that the MITRE internship program is not only for science and engineering majors—it’s for anyone looking for self-development—a real-world professional experience.

On top of all that, I formed friendships with other NCCoE interns and staff that I hope will continue when I resume my studies in the fall. When people ask me what I did over the summer, I can say with confidence that I did my part to solve problems for a safer world. And that would be the truth. 

—by Joshua Cobbins

(Editor’s note: Joshua Cobbins is an undergraduate at McKendree University, in Lebanon, Illinois. He is studying public relations. He wrote this story while interning at MITRE during the summer of 2018.)

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