I will join a college by the end of Sept/Oct. I will pursue Physics (Hons), and my target is to get prestigious research internships at places like LEAP (Leidan observatory in Netherlands) or CERN, so what small steps should I take in the first and second year to achieve my ultimate objective?
I have no experience with LEAP or CERN , but here’re some general advice :
Since you seek research internships , it’d be great if you could get some research experiences . I recommend against doing research without prior consultation with relevant professors because
Doing research in fall or spring semester may heavily harm your GPA due to poor time management .
literature selection . With relatively little prerequisite knowledge and mathematical maturity , you may be wasting you time reading some very advanced papers .
High risk of having little demonstrable research progress . Related to previous point . This’s especially important in your case .
That’s why I recommend consult relevant professors first and
Check out undergraduate research opportunities program (UROP) or something similar at your university . An advisor may be assigned to you , which may write you a reference letter and help you . There may also be courses to teach you research skills . Those’re usually offered in summer term .
Boost you prerequisite knowledge , mainly for reading papers and you also have more tools to implement your ideas . Many papers assume you know advanced calculus & linear algebra and statistics , of course depending on your field .
Improve presentation skills with PowerPoint . Explain technical concepts succinctly . This may also help you in interviews .
Explore your interest by investigating different topics at high level . Also pay attention to lectures , sometimes professors may briefly mention a few ‘keywords’ , if they interest you then do further investigation . Recruiters may value your ambition & interest .
A final note to university freshman is that your "ultimate objective" may change , don’t tie yourself up to any certain identity without good reason .
I'll note that you have set a very narrow target, so you need a clear path if you are to be considered at all. I'll assume that the number of slots in such internships is small with a lot of competition. For CERN, at least, that competition is worldwide.
To be considered you need an application that is supported by letters of recommendation by people who can be trusted to know the requirements but also trusted to give you a very positive letter of recommendation. People who don't know you and your work well aren't in a position to do that. People who don't know what goes on at, for example, CERN may not be the best, though I don't actually know.
If your institution is such that there are people who know these research institutes, perhaps by having worked there, then you want to find a way to interact with them. You are a first year and they are probably senior professors so that won't be trivial.
The first task is to do well in your beginning courses and impress your professors with your potential. Spend time, as much as possible, getting close to them in office hours, seminars, and whatever else is available. If you can impress them, they see if they can introduce you to others, perhaps someone in their circle who does have experience with Leiden or CERN.
If they have research opportunities available, follow up. Not every institution will offer research openings to beginning students, so you will have to search for it. The experience will be valuable, even if it makes you realize that you'd rather be doing something else. Speaking to a faculty member whom you've already impressed might open a door.
But personal/professional relationships can make the difference in shooting for such a small target. It is the same situation as if you were trying to get accepted to one of the top universities in the world. You need more than grades, since a lot of people have good grades.
3 years ago, i had a friend who go accepted to a internship of 2 months to do some research in CERN. it was not an easy proccess of selection, people from all the country where involved. The internship was to help postdoc student (from México, my country) with some results and to open the oportunity to this person to the research field. Of course, one of the most importants things that they asked you to go to this internship, was to: (i) have at least 2 recommendation letters from profesional researchers (professors at your university may help you if you don´t have any contact), (ii) write a prupose essay of why you wanted to do the internship, (iii) a power point presentation where you present all your background and why you´re a good candidate to the internship, and (iv) an interview with the postdocs students.
Of course that great grades are a must have, but the point before may help you trouhg the process of getting an intership or something similar.
Maybe not CERN, but any other research opportunity during college may help you to get future opportunities. Good luck, my friend