You may want to consider undertaking some kind of work experience opportunity or placement during your doctorate, particularly as the majority of doctoral graduates will work beyond academia longer term.
This guide is intended to help you think about the potential benefits of work experience, things to consider, how to get the most from work experience and the impact on your doctorate.
Benefits of work experience
It’s important to spend time thinking about what you’d like to get from your work experience, and whether you’d like to do something related to your research or something further afield.
Work experience can be highly valued by employers and the potential benefits might include:
- a better understanding and experience of your target industry or sector
- helping you to make informed, realistic decisions about future career options
- enhancement to your doctorate, for example through understanding of new ideas or application of new techniques, if your work experience is closely related to your doctorate
- a professional development opportunity
- insights into how research is carried out in other contexts and sectors
- enhancing skills and experience required by specific employers
- business acumen and commercial awareness - employers consider this an area of weakness for doctoral graduates
- developing enterprise skills
- forming new networks
Types of opportunities
'Work experience’, 'internships', and ‘placements’ are broad terms and may include:
- structured internships or placements lasting anywhere between a month and a year
- short ‘work experience' opportunities, lasting a few days or a couple of weeks, aimed mainly at giving you an insight into a particular organisation or sector
- undertaking consultancy as part of your research
- time spent with an industrial partner
- time spent with your PhD sponsor organisation or an organisation you are partnering/collaborating with
How to find opportunities
Advertised internships specifically targeted at doctoral students are getting more common than they used to be, but you’ll probably need to be proactive and use a range of methods to find opportunities that interest and are relevant to you.
The Careers Service advertises internships (and permanent roles) targeted at doctoral students within My future.
LinkedIn is a good source of internship opportunities specifically targeted at doctoral students; search for ‘PhD internship’ within the jobs tab and sign up for alerts.
It is also worth looking directly on the jobs pages of commercial research organisations, tech companies with a research arm (e.g. Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Google) and financial organisations such as banks and hedge funds (for quantitative research opportunities) and signing up for their job alerts and newsletters.
Finding your own opportunities
You may well need to be proactive in seeking out and creating your own opportunities, particularly in niche fields or smaller organisations. A good place to start can be to generate lists of organisations you might want to approach for work experience.
There may be organisations you’re already working with or have come across as part of your research. You can also generate lists of organisations by searching for organisations within Myfuture, using the Library databases to search for companies, using Careers Service sector help sheets, which include links to directories of organisations within particular sectors. Relevant professional bodies and learned societies can also have lists of organisations and be good sources of relevant contacts. You can also use LinkedIn to search for companies within sectors of interest.
You can then approach organisations by sending your CV (tailored to the sector and organisation) and a covering email saying why you are interested in them and asking about the possibility of doing an internship or piece of work experience with them. You could be fairly open in what you ask for, but also consider specific projects you could work on for them and areas of their work where you and your skills and knowledge can add value. This of course requires thorough research into the organisation (for example their business purpose, products, services, clients, values and current projects) so you can demonstrate motivation for them and communicate what you could offer them.
Networking can be key to sourcing your own opportunities – supervisors and other academics with external research partners, your own research collaborators, previous employers and people you meet at conferences and careers events may all be able to help. Be proactive in making connections in sectors of interest; social media can be great for this, as can looking out for meetings, conferences and events that bring together academics and other sectors.
Your wider network of professional and personal contacts may also be able to help suggest organisations or put you in touch with helpful contacts, and you should also use LinkedIn and Bath Connection to connect with Bath alumni. This article has great tips on how to do this.
The IKEEP programme is designed for students to engage with industry on knowledge exchange projects as business advisors, developing business model solutions and market awareness whilst enhancing their skills as intrapreneurs / change makers and future employees. The benefits of the programme include:
- intrapreneurial and employability training workshops
- access to resources and tools
- placements at companies in the region
- experience of working in teams on a specific project
- £450 stipend for each student who completes the training and placement
- Digital Badge for LinkedIn and e-certificate for your CV
- gaining real-world experience
- meeting potential employers
When is the best time to consider doing a placement during my doctorate? This may be an important question if you're considering an internship that lasts a month or more. Should I do the placement in a continuous block, or spread out over longer time – for example 1 or 2 days a week over a longer period of time?
Who do I need to inform about my intention to do a placement or internship?
You will need to consider, and discuss with your supervisor, the impact of any periods of work experience, particularly those that last more than a month, on the progress of your doctorate and whether suspension is needed. If you do decide to suspend your studies, ensure that your funder is informed.
If you are considering doing a placement as part of a CDT programme you will need to liaise with your CDT team.
What other options are available to me?
If your placement is unpaid and relatively short, you could carry on without suspending (particularly if you don’t want your studentship payments to stop, as they would for a suspension, or if the placement is a structural part of your programme). Switching to part-time would only really be an option if it was a long-term placement that was only going to take up part of your time. Our regulations say that a student should normally only switch mode of study once in the lifetime of their doctorate, so you may not want to use up your one chance to switch for a placement.
It is important that you read our Health and Safety Guide for doctoral students for information on risk assessments and off-campus working. You are responsible for undertaking the risk assessment but suggest that you ask your supervisor(s) for support on this. You will need to complete the Off-Campus Activities Notification form - this helps us understand where students might be located.
Reflecting on your placement experience
It is important that you reflect on your placement experience both during and afterwards. Consider what you got from the experience, what did you learn? Where these intended or not? Did they realise your expectations from the placement?
Why not consider writing a short blog about your experience which will facilitate reflection and inform others who are considering taking a placement.
You may want to obtain a reference from your placement employer.