PhD students - should you consider an internship?
Are internships beneficial to PhD students? Source: Shutterstock

Internships are commonplace among undergraduate students and typically less so among PhD candidates.

But the tide appears to be shifting – reports suggest that PhD internships are growing in popularity as it can offer students an invaluable experience to complement their training.

PhD internship varies – The University of Edinburgh notes that it can take on the form of a short-term, full-time transfer, which can range between one to three months, or can be arranged on a part-time basis, with the student working within their host organisation on a regular weekly or even monthly basis.

Some internships may be unpaid, but there are those which are paid and financed by the student’s research council or funding body, by the host organisation, or by a combination of the two.

So if you’re a PhD candidate, should you consider doing an internship?

Here are four reasons you should:

It’ll help you expand your skills

Apart from building your technical, communication and writing skills, an internship will provide you with real-world experiences from an organisation, in addition to learning to meet their business’ goals.

For example, PhD student Mark Richardson took a three-month policy internship in 2014 at the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), where he helped write a four-page brief about international efforts to reduce deforestation ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Speaking to Science Mag, he recalled that it was a tremendous learning experience, adding that it honed his ability to quickly home in on important information, allowing him to make the most of the short time he has to connect with others at conferences.

Richardson also strengthened his writing skills and ability to deal with feedback.

“Getting 30 different reviews from different backgrounds and then having to go through it with your supervisor line by line and defend everything you’ve done, it’s certainly changed how I write papers and how I communicate with co-authors,” he said.

It’ll help you decide what’s right for you

Is a career in academia right for you, or a non-academic one?

An internship can help you explore a career path, be it in research or elsewhere, before deciding if you should commit to doing it full-time. You can speak to your peers or supervisors for advice, especially if they have been in your shoes before.

A chance to build your network

Your internship does not only serve as a platform to learn and utilise your skills in the real world but to also make contacts, be it your colleagues or superiors.

These contacts “could lead to joint research opportunities, academic-industry collaborations or future employment offers”, as employers may also use internships to identify and recruit talent.

It might help you with your PhD

Your time away from your doctoral studies may just help you complete it.

Also speaking to Science Mag, Michelle Reeve shared that she had spent her 2014 three-month internship at the Royal Institution of Great Britain (Ri), where she helped produce the Christmas Lectures that are broadcast every year on national TV.

Reeve said completing the internship put her in a better position to see her doctorate through.

“When I started my PhD, I was having a few issues, and having the time away from it [allowed me] to work through them almost subconsciously, so when I went back, I had some fresh ideas on how to approach the problem,” she said.

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