I want to use this post to communicate just one message: you should look into doing an internship during your PhD. Over the past couple of years I have taken time out of my PhD to work with Tree Aid and the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) and found both experiences really valuable. Some reasons I think doing an internship is a good thing:

  • It broadens your experience and skillset. Some of those skills might be useful later in your PhD. And now that I am approaching the end of my PhD and looking for jobs, I really think that my internships have given me a better idea of what I am interested in, and increased the number of opportunities that match my skills.
  • It can be fun and interesting, and an opportunity to learn new things. Of course!
  • It enables you to take on small projects with the assurance that you have a job (well, a PhD) to return to. After your PhD, opportunities like this are harder to come by and more stressful to fit into your life.
  • It gives you a break from your PhD. Which can be nice in itself – and it can be helpful to return to work problems with fresh eyes after some time away (though also note the next bullet point below). I found that I was a much better editor of my written work after being away from it for a while.

Things to be wary of:

  • It doesn’t buy you more time to work on your PhD. I thought I might use the odd evening during my internships to read or write some more of my thesis. I definitely did not do that, and I hope you don’t think it’s rude if I say I don’t think you will either – you’re just going to be too busy!
  • You tend to lose a bit of momentum when you switch between projects, which might make you work less efficiently. At least I did – it took me a good couple of weeks to really get back ‘into’ my PhD after finishing each internship. I also have pals who did part time internships e.g. two days interning and three days PhD per week, and they had similar but smaller scale weekly struggles with switching between projects.

My internships came about through different means – my work with Tree Aid wasn’t actually an internship, it was a short term job contract which involved taking interruption from my PhD (pause PhD and stipend –> do 5 month job contract with salary –> resume PhD and stipend). The SPICe internship was funded by NERC (UKRI), my PhD funder: my stipend was simply extended to allow me to complete the internship. It’s worth looking into the options allowed by your institution and funder and check what they mean for your stipend and PhD final deadline (e.g. you might be allowed more money to finish your PhD, but not more time if you do an internship).

Last year I listed Five tips for starting (and continuing) a PhD and number four is all about making best use of the flexibility of being a PhD student – doing an internship or taking a short term job is one of the main ways that I have done this, and something I would definitely recommend.

If you’re interested, here’s the main briefing I wrote while working at SPICe last year: Addressing the nature crisis: COP15 and the global post-2020 Biodiversity Framework.