Sunday, 1 November 2015

Should I do an iternship during my PhD?

Internships are a great way to figure out what you want to do with your life, if like me you have decided that academia might not be your thing. Indeed, even if you are not sure about academia, or have decided that academia is definitely your thing, you might still benefit from some insight into the world outside of the ivory tower.

In this post I'm going to concentrate on internship that a PhD student might look into, rather than an undergraduate student, as I believe that although they overlap there are, surprisingly, a lot of internships out there just for people who have completed or are completing a PhD.

What are Internships?
An internship is a little bit like the work experience you did back when you were in school, except for a longer time period. They can last from anywhere around 1 month to a year and can be fully paid, part paid (normally expenses are covered) or unfortunately unpaid. Unpaid internship have had bad rap recently, quite rightly so, as a lot of companies use them as a free workforce of young, enthusiastic people who are being exploited to do the work a paid employee should really be doing. Luckily, in my experience, this does not often happen in the world of science related internships. Most internships I have looked into are paid, or you are at least given some compensation for your time, like expenses (let me know if you think differently, or have found this not the case).

What type of internships are out there?
There are quite a lot of science related internships out there, from working for the summer in a lab, to working for a company like Rolls Royce or AstraZeneca. However these are often targeted towards undergraduates finishing their first degree. This is not to say that a PhD student couldn't do one of these internships - I have a friend who did an internship over the final summer of her PhD in an actuary firm, however as they are not specifically for PhD students I won't be going into them in detail here. But, let me know if you would like me to do a post on more general internships.

The internships that I am focusing on are quite often sponsored by a research council or scientific organisation, and are specifically tailored towards PhD students. They quite often allow you to pause, or take time out of your PhD in order to complete the internship, and they are marketed as giving you a glimpse into the world of science outside of academia so you can become a better, more informed, researcher.

Where can I find out about these internships?
The main ways I found out about different internships was from internal emails at my university. The University of Bristol is quite good about sending around different job and internship offers that get sent to the departments and doctoral training centres. One of my first pieces of advice would be sign up to your departmental, graduate and PhD mailing lists at your university. Most universities should have a centralised postgraduate training facility, I know that Bristol, Oxford and Imperial do, and all universities should have a career service, sign up to their emails too! However I realise that not all universities are very good at sending around opportunities when they come up. So you have to be proactive.

Here is a list of very useful websites, mailing lists and specific internships that I have put together for someone thinking about doing an internship during their PhD:

PSCI-COM mailing list:
Sign up to the PSCI-COM JISCMail mailing list (choose the digest option unless you want lots of emails in one day). It is the best thing since sliced bread! The mailing list regularly send around emails for job opportunities and internships. They won't necessarily be marketed as such, but this week there was an offer of unpaid medical and science writing experience for a new internship start-up with the potential for full time employment eventually. The mailing list regularly post volunteering opportunities and paid job offers, so check it out.

British Science Association Media Fellowship:
This happens every year, and up to 10 practicing scientists (PhD students do count!) get awarded a place (for 2-6 weeks) to be mentored by professional journalists on how to communicate with the media and engage the public. Now this could sound like it's only for people staying in academia, not true! If you enjoy these weeks it could open up hundreds of potential job and networking opportunities. Remember it's not what you know, but who you know, and on this fellowship you will be able to meet with journalists and science writers who are writing about science all day. Another useful internship in a similar vein is the Science Media Centre internship, where for 4 weeks you will get to do everything "from assistance with press briefings to providing support to the chief executive and helping out at events run by the SMC."

Sense About Science:
Is a charity I spoke about a few months back which aims to put science and evidence in the hands of the public, they run fantastic workshops that encourage young scientists to get their voices heard in the media and public debates about science. However they also have an internship program, unpaid, but they do give you expenses, which has glowing testimonials. The good thing about working for a small company or charity, like Sense about Science, is that you get to experience all parts of a business, from working in an office and doing admin, to meeting stakeholders, to holding events.

Internships at Research councils:
These are generally advertised on the research council's website and take place at their headquarters where you could do anything from public engagement, policy, project management or corporate strategy. Here are a few examples from BBSRC (bioscience), the institute of Physics (IoP), The Welcome Trust and the British Council. But have a look yourself, there are lots out there, just type in the name of the institute that interests you and the word 'internship' and something should come up.

POST fellowship:
This is the internship that I am currently doing, I'll write a POST (get it?) on this soon. POST stands for the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and their job is to communicate science to MPs. This means it's a mixture of a science communication role and a science policy role, so you get to do a bit of both. It's very well recognised, you get to work in the house of commons and it's paid!

Editorial Internships:
There are a lot of these out there, from big scientific journals to medical writing. This post from Nature's blog summarises them all quite nicely, but I'll include some links as well. The new scientist had an internship role advertised in 2013, although this hasn't come up since (as far as I can tell) it's definitely worth emailing them and asking. The Welcome trust offers a science media studentship (slightly different as it's not an internship, more like a paid for degree). The economist has a yearly Richard Casement internship for a would be science internship in London.

This is not an exhaustive list, there are so many more internships for PhD students out there. However I consider these some of the best internships I looked at, most of them are paid or have expenses paid and they offer something that will look incredible on your CV and hopefully will help you decide what you want to do.

Where are the internships based?
The only thing about most of these internships and fellowships is that they are mostly based in London. This is something that isn't really being addressed right now. The only thing I think you can do if you can't move to London for three months (which I know most people cannot, think of the expense!) is to get in touch with local companies/societies/scientific institutions. For example most cities have a science museum (the one in Bristol is called @Bristol and does take interns occasionally). Ask your universities public engagement team for an internship over the summer, or a local company (again Bristol has the IoP journal based there).

The most important thing to do is research! You must look into all the options, think about what you want to get out of an internship, it's a great way to try out a career for a short period of time, while having the security of continuing your PhD afterwards. But it is a very big disruption for your PhD (as I'm finding out) so make sure that you know what you are letting yourself in for!

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