It’s no secret that we’re in a slowly improving but still tough job market right now. Those of you with PhDs (in progress) are probably being constantly inundated with doom and gloom about how there are virtually no academic jobs opening up and PhDs have difficulty being hired to do anything else, either – so our fancy degrees don’t exempt us from the troubles of the national economy.
There is a rising awareness of how valuable internships can be in convincing someone to hire you for that first post-PhD job (similar to internships for college students) because you can demonstrate one or more skills and show you can function in a non-academic environment. Internships will also expand your network, potentially providing you with additional mentors and letters of recommendation.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to internships over the past couple weeks, trying to figure out why I haven’t done one during grad school and what is preventing other grad students from pursuing them. I did apply for internships at management consulting companies two years ago but didn’t get very far into the rounds of interviews. Aside from that rejection, I think the main reason I didn’t pursue other internships was that it never seemed like a good time for me to shut down my research and take off, especially because I’ve always felt behind in my degree progression. Other students who would otherwise be interested in the benefits of internships might not pursue them because their advisors or programs are against them (“it’s just not done”) or they have families and can’t move for the summer.
Why have I been thinking about internships so much? I’m participating in a 6-week career development course right now at my university, and a big component of it is a group project. (Side note: What do you think happens when four “emerging leaders” are assigned a group project together?) On the first day of the course each of the participants came prepared with the thoughts of five people we interviewed on what is going well and not so well for the career development of graduate students at our university. We made a giant affinity diagram to categorize the concerns (one per sticky note), and a very popular one concerned a lack of knowledge of non-academic career tracks.
We thought that students doing more internships would advance their career development in a variety of ways – exposing them to non-academic career paths, giving them new skills or opportunities to demonstrate their skills, adding work experience to their resumes, and expanding their networks. All five of the people I interviewed for that first day of the seminar said grad students would benefit from doing internships or that the university needs to increase the percentage of grad students who complete internships. After some more information-gathering and self-reflection, we decided to focus our project on showing grad students that it is possible to gain the benefits of internships through many types of experiences, even if they are not able to complete a classic internship (for the reasons above).
Grad students who say to themselves “I want to do an internship, but I just don’t have time/my advisor won’t let me/no one in my program does them/I can’t leave town” can still pursue career-building experiences during their PhDs. I interviewed one woman who did two local, part-time internships and didn’t have to take significant time away from her research. I know other grad students who got to try out their desired job, worked in a collaborator’s lab, volunteered with local organizations, taught an extra course, or freelanced for scientific writing/editing organizations. And I know many people who did classic summer internships, either in the scientific realm or in business.
I’m even convincing myself that I should try to squeeze a part-time internship in before I graduate to make myself more competitive. While I am interested in a couple fellowships that take either students or recent grads, I know that many internships are only available to current students. While my advisor and I recently confirmed that I’m striving to graduate this coming summer, I’m secretly thinking that perhaps delaying until the fall would allow me the time to do a part-time internship while I’m writing my dissertation. I’ll probably broach that subject with my advisor when this career development course concludes.
I’m also trying to re-cast some of my grad school activities in terms of career development ‘experiences’ – broadening my own definition as I am trying to convince others to do so. Maybe I won’t get a chance to do a proper internship before I graduate but I have done some things outside of coursework or research, even if they weren’t a big time commitment.
- I participated in a case competition
- I serve on my university’s personal finance committee
- I volunteer as a financial coach through my church
- I’m completing this career development course
- I run this blog (who knows, it might end up on my resume!)
Did you do any internships during college or grad school? Have you had any ‘experiences’ that helped you get a job later? How do you think current college or grad students can differentiate themselves from other job applicants?