If you're a graduate student who has been looking at job postings in industry, you've probably been surprised by many of the job descriptions. Most require 2-3 years of previous experience. How does a fresh PhD graduate, with no postdoctoral or previous industry experience, get a foot in the door?
Internships might be the easiest way to get a job in this economy, especially for recent PhD graduates who, in most cases, do not have 2-3 years of work experience. Internships are a proven way of gaining relevant experience plus skills and connections in industry. In today's job market, relevant job experience could give you a competitive edge over myriad other applicants.
Internships provide valuable hands-on experience to graduate students and contribute to their professional development in a number of ways. It may be in the form of learning new scientific techniques, working in teams, or understanding the research dynamics in industry. If you are seeking a job in industry, an industry internship is the best way of obtaining a behind-the-scenes view of real life in industry. Internships definitely look good on your CV, and if you are able to make a favorable impression, the company might hire you when you graduate since you are already an "insider."
The typical duration of internships varies from one month to a year. Summer internships (4-10 weeks) are typically better suited for PhD students since it is unwise for graduate students to take a full year off from their dissertation projects.
How to go about finding an internship?
- Identify and target your future company. Working for a big company is very different than working for a small start-up. Your role, the learning curve, and your potential to grow are closely tied to the size of the company. Based on what suits your personality, you should identify an organization of the size that you would like to work for in the future. Ideally you would want to do an internship in a company of similar size and with similar dynamics.
- Contact your university's career center. There are a lot of resources that one can look into on the Internet, but rather than surfing through hundreds of Google search hits and websites, the first thing I would recommend is to contact the career center at your institution. These people are professionals who are trained to help you find jobs, internships, etc. They can also help you with your CV, cover letters, internship/job applications, and interview skills.
- Networking at national/international scientific meetings. There are a number of vendors at scientific meetings such as the ASCB Annual Meeting whose companies might be looking for interns. Once you have identified your company size and research type/direction, it is easier to identify and approach those vendors face-to-face at meetings.
- Professional colleagues and friends. I know a number of PhD students who found internships in the pharmaceutical industry two or three semesters prior to graduation. These students had jobs waiting for them straight from their PhD completion. Never underestimate the value of networking and communicating with the company representatives, professional colleagues, and friends. They might show you the route to your first job.
- Independent search. Maintain a LinkedIn profile to connect with companies and search for internships on standard search engines such as Google, Monster.com, Naturejobs.com, Science Careers (AAAS), etc.
Here are a few opportunities that I found through Google searches:
- National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/researchandfunding/cancertraining/atnci
- Eli Lilly: http://www.lilly.com/careers/student-opportunities/Pages/internships.aspx
- Genentech: http://www.gene.com/careers/academic-programs/interns-co-ops
- GlaxoSmithKline: http://us.gsk.com/html/career/career-summer.html
- Johnson & Johnson: http://careers.jnj.com/Internship-co-op-program
(Disclaimer: ASCB and/or COMPASS do not endorse any of the above mentioned internship positions.)
During your internship(s), keep in mind to (1) learn as much as possible about the field and (2) network, network, network!