Internship for a PhD candidate

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Internship for a PhD candidate

Postby Jim » Tue Jan 04, 2005 3:37 pm

Hi and Happy New Year's. I am currently in a PhD program in Materials Science & Engineering. The program has taught me valuable problem-solving skills, fundamentals of science, and some techinical skills relating to research methods.

Yet, I am at the point where I feel stymied by a lack of mentorship and guidance for my project. I am a self-motivated person who has driven himeslf through a new project for my PI, which is supported through an SBIR grant with a local biotech company. I have nice results for my work that I have guided myself through. I look forward to carrying out this project until its funding is gone or I've graduated.

My problem is maily because my PI doesn't have much experience in this project nor seem to spend alot of time sitting down with me to discuss details.

I feel like I need to go to some other lab as an intern to get more mentorship, or at least breadth, for my work. I enjoy discussing research with people and I enjoy doing it, too.

So, I would like to ask any of you readers where a good place is that I can go to keep getting experience while I am getting my PhD.

I am interested in developing materials for drug-delivery systems. I would like to apply for an internship at J&J, Medtronic, or Boston Scientific becasue they are large companies that pay wsell and support many research projects. Am I limiting myself if I don't apply at a national lab or small biotech firm?

I think I'm going to ask my PI for this summer off tomorrow!

Thanks for your time.


Internship for a PhD candidate

Postby Val » Tue Jan 04, 2005 11:15 pm


It is traditional to advise young people to choose carefully the laboratory and the advisor of their PhD studies. You will get a postdoc on the strength of your PhD program and of your recorded achievement, and you will get an asst prof or industrial scientist position on the strength of your postdoc achievement, ad hocum. When you start your PhD (like any other career), it is like entering the track from which impossible to get out, and one has no other choice but follow wherever the track leads. So, one has to choose carefully. (True, you can get out of the track at an intersection, but it happens infrequently in one's career, and the first time maybe 10-15 tears down the track).

You can approach a prof in the same field at the same school or other university, and ask him to be your co-advisor. The problem in finding such a person is that advisors like to get the underlings to their _complete_ disposal. Work with him most of the time and learn from him.

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Internship for a PhD candidate

Postby Emil Chuck » Wed Jan 05, 2005 9:16 am

This is a topic for which you will get a lot of responses, and some of them won't give you a solid consensus. There are a lot of dysfunctional elements that I see with Jim's situation that we could easily exceed the character limit.

The most important thing is to determine whether the change in research environment from academia to industry is right for you. If you can go to job fairs and talk to people in those positions, that would be one way of making contacts and discovering whether this is the direction you want to take (through your networking, you can find the person to get informational interviews).

If you are interested in doing an internship with a company for the summer, the first thing I would do is find a company in your area that does similar work that you do or a company that may be interested in someone with your experience. Then check to see if they have an internship program (with all the programmatic caveats).

Just as important, I hope you have been in contact with your advisor and talked to him about your dissatisfaction with his mentoring, that you want his support in working for a while at the small biotech firm through which your SBIR is funded, and that you want an additional mentor who can help guide the science/technical aspects of the project. (Or at least request one of those things, and do it nicely/professionally.) It's amazing how people think the mentoring relationship is equivalent to a master-slave relationship when it isn't or shouldn't.

I will say you do need to see about what resources are completely available to you in your position. I don't know much about SBIR's, but I think that those grants are given so that you can get some experience interacting with "real-life" industry organizations in product development. Take advantage of that contact/link which is already available to you either through that grant or your department.
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Internship . . . WAIT

Postby Andy » Wed Jan 05, 2005 11:21 am


Think about his very seriously before you ask for the summer off. Don't do it yet.

My experience is in the biological sciences; I'm not sure about engineering/materials science. So take my comments with that grain of salt.

However, think about these things:

1. About 90% of the graduate students I've known (a lot) think they "aren't getting enough mentoring." I used to think it myself until I realized something. That is, the whole point of doing a Ph.D. is to become an independent scientist. That's why you're there. Your PI has provided you with a laboratory to pursue that goal. If you get great mentoring on top of that, you should consider it a bonus. You should be proud that you have pushed the project through independently. But don't spend too much time congratulating yourself, because after all, that was the expectation when you started the Ph.D. program.

2. If you were a PI and one of your students asked for the summer off, you could react in a number of ways. You could think "he's thinking of quitting," or "he's not committed to his work" or "he's itching to get out of here and into industry" or " he is really making an effort to mold himself into an all-around scientist." Most PI's won't have the latter reaction. Most PI's would react negatively to it (and there is a range of negative reaction from mild disappointment to turning against you).

I guess my strong advice is forget the internship and focus on finishing your Ph.D. I don't really see what value you would get out of an internship at this point. Other than just getting out of the lab and refreshing yourself for a while.

I must admit, I worked at a pharmaceutical company for 1 year when I was a graduate student. BUT that work was part of my dissertation research and me leaving the lab for that year did not result (even a little) in me focusing on something other than the work I was there to do as part of my Ph.D.

If you want more information on how I swung that year out of the lab/still working on the Ph.D. research, indicate with a post here and we can plan to talk more.

Good luck and don't leave the lab (unless under the right circumstances)!


Internship . . . WAIT

Postby peter » Thu Jan 06, 2005 11:55 am

Hi Andy,
I am about to embark on the journey of a PhD program. My ultimate goal is to pursue a job in the industry and I have been told that doing an internship during your PhD process can greatly benefit the chance of entering the private sector. I hope that you can describe in more specific details about how your internship at the large pharma company went . I am very interested in how you got involve and how it has benefited your career. Thanks


Internship . . . WAIT

Postby Andy » Thu Jan 06, 2005 12:47 pm


My so-called "internship" happened by accident. I was a young grad student working on a project for which there was no expertise in my home laboratory. I tried to do things by the seat of my pants for three months. Soon, I realized that it could be done, but it would take years.

Through the literature, I found a scientist who had done some work similar to what I was doing. I called him up, talked to him for a while, tried some things he suggested, etc. Then I contacted him and asked him how he would feel about me moving physically to his lab to do the project. His company was interesed, and my Ph.D. advisor was 100% on board with the idea.

So I moved to the East Coast. It was a great experience and I got a lot of work done. It has helped my career through experience and connections. However, I think it is still early in my career so the connections I made during that year have yet to bear full fruit. I have kept in touch with my former colleagues there.

If someone wants to do a similar thing, here's what I would recommend. Find an industry lab where you could go and continue to work on your thesis research. To go and work on something else just doesn't make a ton of sense to me. Once you find such a lab, get in touch with them and gauge their interest. For this to work, it has to make sense for everyone involved. The company has to be interested in the project (keep that in mind when picking a lab for your Ph.D.), you have to be pursuing your Ph.D. studies, and your boss has to know that the work he or she wants done will get done quickly. If you set up a situation where going to industry for a year makes sense for everybody, then it doesn't make sense NOT to go. This is rare, but it can be set up if you are in the right type of lab.

Good luck. I can answer other questions later if you have them.

Best wishes,


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