Data analysis internship experiences
My experience as a summer intern at the Prospective Student Web Content Team and why I think you should be/get an intern.
Hi, I’m Ash, and I’m the intern
I’ve been saying that a lot recently. But it’s true, for the past 12 weeks I’ve been the data analysis intern working under the wonderful Carla Soto Quintana and inside the difficultly-named [deep breath] Prospective, Student, Web, Content, Team!
It’s been an interesting journey, so in this blog I’ll take you through my experiences and work, why you should consider taking on an intern, and why, if you’re a student, you should consider becoming an intern.
But first, who the hell am I and what do I do?
Well, during term time I’m a (2nd year) physics student and at all times I’m a massive nerd. I’ve never had an office job before but I’ve done some deeply unpleasant work in the service industry which made an office job seem deeply appealing.
My work as an intern is in the nebulous world of “data analysis”. I’m still figuring out exactly what I do. But, it mostly involves getting data from various places (usually monitoring software like Screaming Frog and Google Analytics), doing things with it in spreadsheets and then sometimes presenting that data in a way that’s readable to people that don’t use Excel recreationally. (I’ve been reliably informed that such people exist).
The job also sometimes involves writing blogs, which the job title did not prepare me for, and as you might be able to tell I don’t regularly write professionally.
Starting out and going from student to staff
The transition from being a student at Edinburgh to working here is a strange one. The most notable difference is actually doing work, but there are other weird things as well and the process can seem a little daunting.
First off, before you start, you’ll be introduced to some confusing IT systems you need to grapple with. The process of inputting personal details into our HR system was a notably lengthy and frustrating experience (hot chocolate or calming tea recommended).
Next up, after you’ve started, is mandatory training which is all mercifully online. It takes several hours and gives you useful information ranging from “you should leave the building if there is a fire” to “how to make web pages accessible”, so it’s a mixed bag.
Onboarding is officially over now and it’s at this point that my experience diverges from the 60 or so other interns, spread across the University, and I get introduced to the tools I’ll need for whatever it is I do.
Tools of the trade
First off is Google Analytics, which for me is heaven. Being able to find out which countries most of the University’s web traffic comes from, and what phones visitors from Australia used, and if anyone in the world actually uses the Microsoft Edge browser, is joyous for chronically online nerds like myself. And once you’ve gotten past what exactly a “dimension” and “metric” is and the difference between a “medium” and “source”, it becomes fairly easy to use – API struggles not withstanding.
The other major tool of my trade is Screaming Frog, a web crawler (a program that goes through a website and gathers metadata from each page). It was this tool that taught me two interesting things which I didn’t expect:
- The University website is utterly enormous.
- Nobody actually seems to know what’s on it and exactly how big it is.
Amongst the fun things you can do with Screaming Frog are:
- get blocked from the Edinburgh College of Art and Business School websites – twice
- find every spelling error on the site
- discover that the School of Engineering has a page for every single staff member they’ve ever had, presumably since the website began
What I think I do
Onboarding and important learning finished, the realisation that I actually have a job and have things to do dawns on me.
So far, I’ve done reports on webpages, participated in a user research field day (which had major school field trip vibes), explored and mapped the web offerings of similar institutions on postgraduate research courses and compiled lists of webpages for the team’s postgraduate taught content audit.
Unlike a lot of interns who have one big project to work on, I’ve been bouncing from task to task. This way of working has kept things interesting and makes me feel much more like a member of the team than if I’d been hidden away in a corner working on something unimportant for three months.
Why you should become an intern
There is the major, obvious reason to be an intern over the summer: money.
But there are also less obvious reasons and reasons why it may be better than doing other kinds of work:
- It is a lot more pleasant and a lot less stressful and tiring than work in the service sector and other kinds of work available to students.
- It gives you an excuse to stay in Edinburgh over summer and explore the Fringe.
- It staves off the boredom over the long summer break.
And while I can only speak to my own experience, everyone I’ve worked with over my internship so far have been kind and considerate and just generally lovely. Plus, it’s been a wonderful environment to work in.
Why you should get an intern (other than the obvious power trip)
Hiring an intern is a reasonable amount of work, but for Employ.ed positions the Careers Service staff offers support throughout the process including document templates, timelines and advertising the role to students.
But once that work is finished, a candidate is selected and summer rolls around then you can start reaping the many rewards of having an intern in your team, such as:
- Gaining the perspective of a current student can be extremely useful to the function of much of the work of the University whether it be in a directly student-facing position or deeper in the bowels of the institution
- Having an intern is a great way to get experience for managerial roles and could be your first go at being someone’s boss
- The technical abilities of students going through University should not be underestimated. For example, a 3rd year engineering student knows a substantial amount of what a graduate would know and it’s very fresh in their mind. Students can be at times frighteningly smart and subject matter experts in their own rights.
But, of course, perhaps the main benefit is simply having an extra pair of hands to reduce your team’s workload or maybe to work on things that long ago you put in a backlog.
A note on responsibility
Hiring an intern can be rewarding and very useful. But, it should go without saying that managing anybody and especially managing young people with little or no experience of work should be taken very seriously.
You must be kind, considerate and understanding, and perhaps most of all present (yes, I am throwing shade at a certain science-related school internship). You will get utility out of taking on an intern but it will also become a large part of your job, and the pedagogic benefit you are providing to the student should not be overlooked.
If you are a student, become an intern!
You gain great experience, you get paid and it looks wonderful on a CV.
If you are a member of staff, get an intern!
Students are smart and effective people with unique and important perspectives that will benefit you and your team. And, on top of that, summer internships are massively oversubscribed so if you care about student experiences and career developments, then consider doing your bit to increase the availability of these extraordinary opportunities at the University.
Further reading and where to get started
The Careers Service website contains lots of advice and the steps you need to take to begin the process of getting an intern: