9 Top Tips for your PhD Internship

Many PhD students will get the chance to do an internship as part of their doctoral programme, in particular those on a Doctoral Training Partnership course. For the past 12 weeks I have left the biochemistry lab behind and have been on an internship in business learning about strategy design and implementation. I know right, fancy!

“I gained so much from my internship, not only new skills to put on my CV”

I was placed in the Co-operative Group head office, a hi-tech glass structure in Manchester City centre where I was based in the Human Resources department working on a new skills development scheme. The environment has been a little surreal because the corporate world is so vastly different to the academic world that us PhD students are used to. The whole experience has been amazing though and I have learnt so much; I would definitely recommend any PhD students out there thinking about doing an internship to just go for it! The Careers Service can help you to find and apply for internships if it’s something you fancy doing to gain more experience and boost your CV. To help navigate the corporate world and get the most out of your internship I have put together a list of my top tips…inside

Be friendly with everyone

As a PhD student we often spend a lot of time on our own. Use your internship as a chance to meet new people and network, network, network! Find out about how people got to be where they are now as a sure-fire way to get inspired!

Link In

At the end of each week connect with the people on Linked In that you have had conversations with that week as a great way to stay in touch when you’re back on campus. Also regularly update your profile with your new-found business skills. Stakeholder Engagement, Project Management, yes please!

Dress to Impress

You’re not on campus any more! If you’re internship is in business, chances are the dress code will be smart dress so ditch the hoodie and trainers. Throughout your internship you are bound to be getting introduced to lots of people, many of them may be high up in the company and you will want to make a good impression. Dressing smartly  is a great way to ensure that the first impression you give is that you are smart , reliable and mean business! My office ran a ‘hot desk’ policy so one day I could be sat next to my friends and the next the head of HR, so be prepared for all eventualities!

Office Culture Vulture

There’s bound to be lots of new workplace culture that you’re not used to as an academic – team breakfast meetings, coffee updates, free food Fridays (Food retail was definitely a great choice of placement!) – so make the most of all that is going on! Also find out pretty soon whether or not they do Casual Fridays…saves you turning up in a suit like I did when everyone else is in jeans!

Speak out in meetings

In academia we are often faced with a backlash when speaking out and we are well used to being ripped to pieces after a presentation. Business is not like this as people tend to be more subtle with their criticisms so don’t be afraid of telling your opinion on a subject! People will be interested in what you have to say as you will look at problems from an ‘outsider’ perspective which is always valuable. This is sure to boost your confidence in returning to your studies too!

Make a ‘Jargon-buster’ list

Each business and each department within each business has it’s own unique language – your first team meeting will likely baffle you! HR TOM WOW anyone? Nope, me neither…Make a note of any words/acronyms that you didn’t understand and get someone to explain them all afterwards if it’s not appropriate to interrupt the meeting.

Talk the Talkinside 2

Once you start getting the hang of the jargon your team uses, start throwing it back at them in conversations. Not only does this show that you are adapting to become a valuable member of their team but it helps you to make your points with authority. Within 2 weeks as an intern I was SME or ‘Subject Matter Expert’ in my project and when people asked a question they expected an answer! Reply using the correct language and you will convince even yourself that you know what you’re talking about!

Prepare yourself for your first teleconference

Make sure you know what you want to say and what you want to get from the person you are meeting but bear in mind that you won’t be able to see the person’s face. This will feel really weird at first as it’s difficult to tell if people are still listening to you and you can’t read their reaction in their faces! Have faith and stop to check that people are still following you every now and again.

Get stuck in!

Don’t use the short length of your internship to put off doing tasks. It might not help you directly in your PhD but these experiences are bound to count for something further down the line! You might only be there for a few weeks but that’s all the more reason to get things done asap! Also never refuse tasks which you think are ‘beneath you’, there’s no such thing as a waste of time as you only get out of an experience what you put in.

I gained so much from my internship, not only new skills to put on my CV but valuable contacts outside of academia, a better understanding of where I want to be when my PhD comes to an end and most of all confidence! If I can survive the cut-throat corporate world I can survive academia right? 😉


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