Internships for Graduate Students & Postdocs 1: Confident Career Decision-Making Through Internships
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Internships for Graduate Students & Postdocs 1: Confident Career Decision-Making Through Internships


Hello. My name is Alexandra Schnoes, and I’m the Associate Director of Career and Professional Development at iBiology. And today, in a series of two talks, I’m going to talk to you about internships for life science grad students and postdocs. In the first talk, I’m going to talk to you about why it is that you might want to go on an internship and what internships can look like. And then in the second talk, I’m going to talk about the process of finding an internship and then going on an internship. So, the reason that I am the one talking to you about internships is that in 2009 I helped found an internship program at UCSF. So, the Graduate Student Internships for Career Exploration program, or GSICE, was founded to be able to allow UCSF’s basic and biomedical science graduate students to go on internships outside of academia, so go do an industry internship, or go do something in marketing, or any number of career areas that are open to life science PhDs. I was the founding program manager. And at the time that we started the program, it actually was the first program out there that actually supported grad students into going into all of the career areas open to life scientists, not just industry positions. While I was running the program, we were able to recruit funding that allowed us to replicate the program at another site, in this case, University of California, Davis. And so, we were actually able to do research on the outcomes of our programs on our students and publish those data, which I’ll get into in a little bit. Now, fortunately, there are many internship programs throughout the US. Hopefully, you might actually be at a campus or a university that has one. But even if you don’t, hopefully this series of talks will help you figure out if you want to do an internship, and then how to do it if you want to do it. So, I just want to take a moment to acknowledge all of the people who helped make the UCSF internship program possible, and the partner program possible. This is definitely not something that one person can do alone. It is a team. So, I just want to say thank you, and acknowledge the hard work of the UCSF Office of Career and Professional Development and the Graduate Division; the UCSF School of Medicine and the Chancellor’s Office; our collaborators at UC Davis; the external evaluation team at Northwestern University; and in particular, two senior faculty members at UCSF, Keith Yamamoto and Bruce Alberts, who were real program champions and were really the force behind getting these… this program started at UCSF. So, as you hopefully already know, there are many science career pathways that exist for you as a life science PhD. You’re probably very familiar with being a Principal Investigator in academia, but it turns out that there are a number of other things you can do, and this is just a little bit of a list that you can see. There are many more exciting careers that you can go into. But you might already be wondering, how do you know what you want to do for a career? And how on earth do you get there? So, my advice to you is to get experience. And do it from the very beginning. When you’re just exploring a range of career options, what this possibly means is going to a lot of workshops on your campus or at conferences; doing a lot of reading, say on Science Careers or Naturejobs, or there are a number of books out now on life science careers. As you’re starting to narrow down your interests, you might get yourself involved in things that take a little more time and effort. So, possibly you start networking. Maybe you do a job shadow or a job simulation. For example, there are the InterSECT job simulations, which are built specifically for life science PhD’s to try out little projects in other life science careers. And then there are the internships, which are typically something you’re gonna do when you’re really interested in a career, and wanna get your hands dirty, and really try something out. But you might be wondering, why on earth would I actually do this? I have so much to do in the lab. My PI needs things to get done. I’m trying to get papers out. Doing an internship, even a part-time internship, just even getting an internship, takes a lot of time and effort, and then I’m supposed to take time away from the lab and do a full-time internship? I’m… how is that gonna work, and why… why would I really do that? Well, it turns out that there… internships are incredibly helpful in helping you clarify your career interests. So, when we looked at the students at UCSF and UC Davis before and after they did internships, before the internship only about 20% of the students actually felt confident about their career choice. The majority of them were still considering a wide range of options. After the internship, there is a marked difference. So, almost 60% of the students actually now felt confident in their career choice. And only a small number, about 15%, still were considering a range of options. And when we talked to students who did internships, even the ones who did internships that maybe they didn’t like or didn’t help them choose that career as the one they wanted to do, they found the internships incredibly valuable, because it helped them learn about a career and maybe decide that that wasn’t for them. So, no matter the outcomes, all of our students recommend doing internships after having done them. So, another reason that you might want to do an internship is, quite bluntly, it helps you get a job. It improves your resume. But more importantly, it makes you more competitive, because it shows that you have interest and skills, and that you understand the culture and the work of the career you’re trying to go into. And by doing that, the employer is a lot more willing to take a risk on you and hire you, because they… they see that you know what you’re gonna be getting yourself into. So, for example, one of the students — these are quotes from real students that we talked to after their internships — said that doing the internship really was great for them on their resume, and was a key factor in them being able to find a full-time job. And the second student just, quite frankly, said, I don’t think I would have gotten this job without the internship. So, doing an internship is incredibly helpful for you as you’re trying to move into your next career step. So, you might be wondering, well, what do career… what do internships look like in different careers? So, the first thing to know is that, often, when people use the word internship, they’re… they’re sort of automatically implying the… the kind of situation where you leave the lab for a certain amount of time, say three months, and then you come back, and it’s full-time, and it takes up a lot of your time. And that might be true for you. But it turns out, when we looked at our students, both full-time and part-time internships were incredibly beneficial for them. So, an internship for you might be full-time, it might be part-time, it could be just a project that you’re working on that’s very time-limited, it could be a formal experience in a biotech company, maybe it’s an informal situation with a friend who’s starting a startup, maybe it’s going to be called a co-op, or maybe it’s called an externship. The point is, what you’re really looking for is experiential learning. You’re looking for that opportunity to get hands-on training and experience. So, whatever an internship is for you, that’s what it is at the core. So, don’t worry that it has to be full-time or part-time. All of these things are incredibly beneficial. It’s really what works for you and your situation. So, there are a lot of different sectors, actually, that offer internships. In fact, as… as far as we could tell, if it’s a sector that wants to hire life science PhD’s, there’s probably internships that you can find in it. As you see here, we… we cover a number of different sectors. These are internships at UCSF from 2010 to 2015. We had students who went to big biotech companies, small startups, nonprofits, law firms. Really, what I want you to take home is that, at the end of the day, if you’re interested in that career, and that career typically hires life science PhDs, there’s probably an opportunity for you. So, this is just a little bit of a list of places that students at UCSF and UC Davis went to. What I want to just highlight is that, yes, there are definitely some famous names on there like Genentech or Google, but there’s also probably names that you have never seen before. And really, our students found meaningful op… meaningful options in all sorts of different environments and companies and company sizes. So, don’t think that only the worthwhile experience is gonna be at Amgen. There’s really a lot of options out there for you. So, there are a couple of trends when it comes to internships. It is true that if you’re doing a full-time internship it is likely to be about three months in length. It can be longer. That’s… that’s not as common. Often, if they’re longer, it’s because you’re doing them right after you’ve graduated. You know, it’s hard to take off more than three months from… from your lab work, so that’s pretty standard. Part-time internships are typically for a longer period of time. So, you know, that’s just a reflection of the fact that you’re typically going to be working 10 hours of… 10 hours of work a week or less. And so it just takes longer for both you and the employer to get more out of that, so it’s… it’s typically six months or a year long, something of that length. You should definitely be paid if you’re doing a full-time internship. This is standard for life science PhD’s. To be honest, this is actually not a problem we ever had when… when I was running the internship program. But I want you to know that it is not normal for you not to get paid. You should be getting paid if it’s a full-time internship. It is true that for part-time internships they are often unpaid. But this is in the situation where you’re doing about ten hours of work a week or less, so it’s… it’s often sort of considered an extracurricular that you’re not supposed to be taking time away from the lab. It may not be really fair, but… but that is unfortunately the standard. Also, it is true that a lot of internships happen in the summer. This is likely just a holdover from the fact that internship sites are familiar with doing undergrad internships, and typically the only time they can do an internship is in the summer. So, you will see a lot of postings for summer. Definitely, I think most of our grad students have gone in the summer. It’s… it’s just a standard time. But, if you’re a grad student or postdoc, remember that, you know, you’re likely not taking classes anymore, so you in theory could go anytime. And we certainly had grad students go anytime during the year. So, don’t be afraid to look for opportunities that happen at other times in the year, or don’t be afraid to ask a site that takes grad students in the summer if maybe they can take you at a different time in the year. So, it is also common that internships actually don’t happen while you’re in training but right after you’re in training. So, we had about 20% of our students that actually did their internships post-graduation. And the reasons for this are many, of course, like their projects just weren’t ever going to allow them to leave for 3 months, maybe their PI wasn’t thrilled about the idea. But these are things that can actually happen, so… so be on the lookout for those opportunities. It is true that it is not common for you to get benefits on an internship, so you will not be getting health insurance, you will not be getting retirement. You’re gonna… you’re gonna be a temporary worker. That’s… that’s just the standard. And to be clear, an internship does not guarantee employment at the company that you’re interning at. There are definitely cases that we’ve had where a student will get a full-time offer after doing an internship, but not every internship site is actually looking to hire full-time. They might just be really interested in having interns. So, don’t go into an internship with that expectation. If it happens, congratulations. But that isn’t normally the norm. Okay. So, hopefully I’ve convinced you a little bit that internships can be really useful to you, and that you’re gonna find, probably, an opportunity for you that you might be very interested in. So, now is the next step of really exploring your options, which we’ll talk about in the next talk, where I discuss how to find and then go on an internship. Thank you.

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