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Learning by Doing – Get the most out of an internship with the Scottish Government!

Learning by Doing – Get the most out of an internship with the Scottish Government!

Each PhD journey is unique whether we want it or not. We sometimes find ourselves running through smooth valleys and other times struggling to even make one step in a steep hill. Can you completely avoid steep hills? Well, the quick answer is no, but you can definitely plant a seed to create more smooth valleys.

If you are looking for worthy valley-seeds, we have one for you. Why not apply for a 3-month paid PhD internship with the Scottish Government (SG)? We cannot guarantee that it’s going to be the smoothest of your valleys but it will undoubtedly be a new territory!

In fact, with 3 of our editorial members completing an SG internship in the last two years, we decided to gather our experiences and tips and give you an insight into our experiences. After reading this blog, hopefully, you will have a clearer idea of whether this seed is for you or not (however, similar to PhD journeys, internships are also unique experiences)!


Why apply for an SG internship?

When answering this question, we found ourselves revolving around one common theme: To Expand! To expand your research and writing skills, your network, your career options, your horizon in different research fields, your understanding of how policy works, and of course your CV. No matter what your initial motivation to apply for an internship is, it’s well worth it, including the very valid one: to take a break from your research. Internships do offer all of the above and beyond, but to make sure these expectations are met, let your manager know about them as early as possible. Internships are quite flexible and can be tailored to your needs and skills.


What was our experience doing the internship?

  • Wellbeing matters

All of us did our internship with the SG remotely (and during a pandemic), which can make you feel isolated at times (especially if you are only there for a few months). However, the SG internship included many opportunities to collaborate, attend workshops, meetings, or coffee chats with other members of the SG. As an intern you will have the opportunity to join an intern Teams group and line managers generally encourage you to set up meetings with different people throughout your time there. Flexible working hours mean that you can always have a break in-between, or work longer on one day to have an afternoon off at another time. If you have other responsibilities next to the internship (such as tutoring), you can discuss to work part time for a while as well. Many meetings started or ended with a little chat about how everyone was doing (sometimes, we even rated our wellbeing and discussed the most challenging and best thing that had happened that week). All of this made it feel like your work was not the only thing that mattered, your wellbeing did too.


  • Being part of the team

All of us felt like we were welcomed into the SG community with open arms. No matter who you talked to, everyone was very approachable, friendly, and helpful. Open and frequent communication with line managers and team members meant that you were never left to your own devices. The internship was a great opportunity to meet people from various backgrounds, and to learn more about what you can do with a PhD. Even though you were responsible for your own project, you were a team member just like everyone else.


  • The challenges

Like any other experience (and job), the internship was at times challenging. Definitely be prepared that the paperwork required to start the internship will take longer than you originally think (especially if you are doing an internship remotely and they need to deliver a laptop to your house). Overall, the internship felt very fast paced (with some slower periods at the beginning and in-between). The SG is a very dynamic workplace where team members change appointments frequently (and so do team leaders!), which can create some confusion or delays for your project. This also impacts communication between different working groups and might mean that you have to stay on top of things a bit more. As you are only joining for a few months, the project outline might need to be adapted as the internship progresses, so it is important to keep your internship timeline in mind. It might not always be clear what is expected of you (some of us struggled a bit with establishing what the internship outcome might be), but SG members were always willing to have further meetings to discuss ways to move forward.


  • Being a ‘real’ researcher

You generally have a lot of freedom on what you want to focus on within your internship, but this might depend on the team and line manager you are working with. All of us felt like we were trusted to take control of our own work, while being valued as an equal in team meetings. During your time with the SG, you will be invited to all kinds of meetings, even those that you might consider ‘high profile’. Compared to academia, hierarchies are very flat, so be prepared to be treated as a researcher with specific skills and tools (which you have!). The internship was a great opportunity to boost our confidence as researchers because we realized how much we already know and can do.


So, you have decided the internship is for you – you applied and got the post! Here are some tips to help you make the most of that internship from day 1:

  • Be flexible!

Going into the internship will be like walking into the unknown. Be prepared to be flexible as your project takes shape. There are a number of stakeholders who will give you input, and their opinions might not always align, so it is up to you to find a path through that takes everyone’s needs into account as much as possible. The project might change a little or it might change substantially. This is a key feature of the fast-paced environment so get ready for some twists and turns.


  • Take opportunities!

This internship might force you to step out of your comfort zone, but it is a great opportunity to learn new skills. Sign up to any and all of the seminars that pique your interest. You might even consider taking on a project that is a completely different topic to your own field of work. Take advantage of the welcoming nature of the staff team and set up coffee meetings to find out what is going on in other teams and what other interns are working on.


  • Have confidence!

Movies have taught us that the intern is the person who gets coffee and sits quietly in the corner. This internship is a little different – you have been offered the role because you are already a competent researcher. Ask lots of questions so that you can understand what the expectations and deliverables are and then get to work. Trust yourself and know your value.


  • Let go of perfectionism!

The internship is short – three months is not a lot of time to create an indepth piece of research. By understanding the expectations of the work you can make sure that you have compiled the evidence and data that is most important as well as explained the implications of this data for policy creation. Communicate with your team often to make sure that you are on the right track and you can pull together a useful and informative piece of work that has practical implications for people and communities. Done is better than perfect (this is probably good advice for that pesky thesis you are working on as well!)


For more information about Scottish Government internships as well as other exciting opportunities, visit the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science (SGSSS) website.



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