The Tale of a PhD Intern

Going into my PhD I wasn’t exactly sure how much work I would be able to do on the side. The University has restrictions on how many hours full time PhD students are able to work, so finding the right kind of job to work around my research was ever so slightly daunting. When I got an email advertising a PhD Internship with the Medical Education Unit I jumped at the chance to do some RA work. I expected it to be good but the benefits have been more than I ever imagined.

  1. Flexibility and autonomy.

First and foremost, having a research position that is incredibly flexible was even more beneficial than I anticipated. Some weeks I would dedicate a few days to my internship and some especially busy weeks in the lab I wouldn't do anything. My internship supervisor was very supportive of this and having that flexibility took away a lot of stress. I’m the kind of person that if I’m getting in the swing of things, be it writing or data analysis, it’s hard for me to stop and then jump back in. Being able to keep going at will, without having to pull away to make it to a specific shift time, was something I really don’t take for granted.

What I also appreciated from this internship was the level of autonomy I had as a research assistant. I really felt like my contributions were valued and I felt like part of a team. I’ve never had a bad RA experience but I do know some people who have felt more like an overused assistant than a collaborator. It can be disheartening to feel as though your work isn’t making a meaningful contribution but I found in my internship it really felt like a collaboration and an opportunity to learn new skills from new people. Speaking of expanding skills…

2. Expanding my research skills

My role in this internship involved both data collection and data analysis. I did some recruitment and met lots of incredible people throughout the university in the process. I gained experience in recorded interviews and was able to learn about different research methods. As my PhD is quantitative, this internship offered a great opportunity to learn about qualitative research that I’m not sure I would have had otherwise. I did a lot of reading surrounding the methodology of qualitative research and learned about the approach to qualitative data analyses. It was an incredible and informative opportunity and I feel very fortunate to have been able to expand my research skills outside of my PhD (while still doing my PhD).

3. Being a part of a different area of the University

Postgraduate programs are designed to create a community of peers. From social events to journal clubs, a lot of effort goes in to creating a sense of community. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of those involved, often it can be hard for us post graduate students to leave our little caves and come out and meet people. This internship afforded me the opportunity to meet new people from a different part of the university. From the wonderful Medical Education team to all of the members of staff throughout the university that I interviewed as part of the research, my horizons were well and truly widened.

4. A different perspective

It’s nice to get out of the lab/your own world and stretch your legs a bit. This internship was in an area I knew little about, using research methods I was unfamiliar with, with a population I had never worked with before. As such, I learned something new throughout ever moment of the job. More than just qualitative vs. quantitative approaches; I learned how a different team collaborates, how a different supervisor approaches things and how a different area of literature is approached.

It also allows you to see how another world works. Chances are you won’t have an internship in a job that you’ve already done before so this is a perfect opportunity to see what working in another post or field is like. As PhD students, our futures are oh so murky and personally I appreciate any chance I have to try out as many different roles and responsibilities as possible.

5. The financial side of things.

Obviously doing an unpaid internship would also afford you all of the benefits that I have listed above. However, a PhD is crazy busy and there’s not exactly a lot of time, or will power, to do extra things for free. The opportunity to have a paid internship position was definitely ideal. The obvious financial benefits of having a part time job, mixed with the global benefits of a research based internship made for an ideal situation.

If the opportunity to do an internship arises, I’d highly recommend going for it. If you interview but don’t get the post then it’s still valuable experience applying and interviewing for jobs (no one’s favourite activity). If you interview and do get it, then grab it for all it’s worth because it really is a valuable experience. Make the most of it and learn as much as you can and you may just find you enjoy yourself along the way.

Good luck!





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