The Internship

Many of us doing a Science PhD will now be enrolled on four year courses, and as part of these courses you get the chance to do a 3 month internship.

Two of the most common PhDs formats in science are:

  1. Doctoral training partnership (DTP) PhDs: In this set-up you get the chance to do a three month internship in anything outside of your PhD area- this means you have an opportunity to do an internship in anything you are interested in from publishing, to science policy, to media and relations…
  2. Industrial Case PhD (iCase) : In this type of PhD you also get to do a internship which is commonly 3 months long, but can be longer. This will be industrially based and commonly with the company which is linked to your PhD project.

There are so many benefits to doing an internship as part of your PhD, however, actually coming to do the internship can be a bit stressful.

Your supervisor.

I personally did not have any problems with my supervisor and my internship, however I have heard from others that an internship can be a source of tension between student and supervisor. This may be surprising to hear- mainly as the supervisor will now from the start that you need to do a 3 month internship- so, you would think they would have no issue with it…

Some supervisors can have less than positive views about your impending internship, and may not truly understand the goal of the internship, and your time away from your PhD work.  This may culminate in your supervisor piling on the work before your internship, and heavily suggesting for you to come in after work or at weekends to keep up with your projects. Going up against your supervisor as a mere PhD student can be a very hard thing to do indeed- but try not to let them pressure you into doing work outside your internship. This isn’t the goal, and really you are not meant to…!! In the end, it is only 3 months, which out of the 4 years you have isn’t actually that long!

Halting your project.

The prospect of stopping my project for three months– especially in my third year– was daunting.

I did my internship pretty late, I am only just about to complete it (end of July) in my third year. This wasn’t intentional- I am an iCase student and I had some issues in my first and second years (my industrial partner went bust, and so a new one had to be found ect ect.) Additionally, my PhD is split between two completely different areas: Plant Biology and Cell biology- when you are adjusting to a completely new set of skills and a new area of your project, the last thing you want to do is to suddenly stop for 3 months. So I chose to delay my internship until, firstly I knew where I was going to be going (where I was reliant on my supervisor doing some behind the scenes negotiation), and when I was in a reasonable place to stop.

But you know what? There never really is a good time to stop your research. You just have to do it. Plan when you are having your internship- and plan your experiments to finish by then. This makes it so much easier.

3 Months is a LONG TIME.

No, it really isn’t!!  I wouldn’t have believed myself 3 months ago, but I can honestly say 3 months goes super fast. It honestly isn’t that long- and your experiments can most definitely wait that long to be done.

So, what can you do to help relieve any anxieties in the run up to the internship? Here are some of my tips:

  • Slowly wind down your experiments Have a finish date (a few days before your actual finish date) which you aim to have actual lab-based experiments done by.
  • If working with something such as plants, which can’t just be forgotten about for 3 months, make arrangements with someone in the lab to look after them.  Most people in your lab will not want to see you fail- and so will help!!
  • Write a list of things you need to look at when you get back. No ones memory is great, and you most likely won’t remember the important things you need to get going on when you get back.
  • Go over your notes make sure you have the little things written down, like where that new reagent you just got has been put, what cell lines you have in storage ect. These may be things you naturally know and do automatically everyday as you use all the time, however you may not remember these things after 3 months away!
  • Rearrange your computer files sounds stupid but it helps! Make sure all your data files have good names- not just odd numbers, or symbols. Have your data organised in files which make sense, and in orders that make sense. It’s amazing what you will forget in three months- this will help when you get back.
  • Don’t expect yourself to get back into experiments as soon as you get back after the internship– pre-book a meeting with your supervisor so you can refresh on your project. Take time to go over reagents you have, making sure you have everything you need. Go over what experiments you did, the data, and what you had planned. Does it all still make sense?

Remember the positives will far outweigh any perceived negatives you may have.

  • You will gain a whole heap of new skills
  • You may find out whether a job area is what you actually do want to go into- or not!
  • New friends, and connections
  • If you get a 9-5 internship, those are the hours you work. 9am-5pm – you don’t stay longer, you don’t take work home with you. You do your work at work and finish! It’s great.
  • New work ethics- outside the PhD bubble you realise the difference in ‘normal work’ lifestyles. This may help you look again at your PhD work life balance and readjust- which can only be a good thing for most PhDs.
  • New enthusiasm for your project. Being stuck in a rut with your project can be common. People don’t talk about a PhD being like a rollercoaster ride for no reason- having 3 months outside your project, being completely removed will let you come back with fresh eyes. Nearly everyone who has done a internship says they went back to their project with renewed enthusiasm, with new ideas and insights. They always say that stepping back from something can give you a better perspective overall.

Although I loved the idea of going on an internship, I definitely was a bit apprehensive at first about leaving my project for 3 months. Looking at it now, I am so glad that I did this internship- that I had a break from my project.

I have been reminded how much I love my project, and the thought of returning to it fills me with so much excitement! I am now feeling a bit anxious about returning- picking up from where I left off, and getting everything done in my final year. But, I know I am going back with a better and more clear perspective about my project, and this can only be beneficial.

My final tip:  Enjoy the internship, make the most of it. You will be back in the lab sooner than you think.

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