Kshitij Tiwari Ph.D.

A Comprehensive Guide to PhD Internships

10 min read

If you have started delving into the PhD journey, despite being an early stage researcher (ESR), you might have already heard of the saying: “the best way to learn is by getting your hands dirty”, in other words, experiential learning.

While you might be taking some courses to understand the concepts involved with the core topic of your PhD, but classroom learning is one thing whereas the real life application of conceptual learning is a whole another ball game.

One might argue that publishing scientific articles in academia is a part of experiential learning. Be that as it may, a PhD internship is another approach to experiential learning wherein the findings have a potential to make a much bigger impact upon maturity.

So, could internships be the answer to experiential learning during your PhD? If so how and when is the right time for an internship? How long should your internship be and what are the benefits of an internship? All this and a lot more about internships during your PhD will be covered in this article.

What are the types of PhD internships?

Firstly, let’s take a quick look at what sort of internships are out there for PhD scholars. There are basically two kinds of internships:

Paid PhD internships

Paid internships are usually associated with research or industry-based internships where you might be interning in a company and getting paid for the same.

Usually, these internships focus on the research topics of your PhD and are 1-3 month long, wherein you are expected to get publishable results.

N.B. A publication is NOT always guaranteed. Sometimes, depending on the nature of the research, you may not be allowed to publish or even publicly discuss your contributions. So, be sure to clearly understand restrictions, if any.

Unpaid PhD internships

On the other hand, you have unpaid internships which resemble more to an independent research project or an entrepreneurial venture in which you work on the core topics of your PhD and opt to receive no monetary compensation.

Usually, these internships have a higher threshold for learning as you have to handle all aspects of the project, be it raising funding, customer management, team and process management, etc.


A PhD internship stipend is hardly going to make you “rich” but having some sort of stipend to go with it helps you to sustain in case you need to relocate for an on-site internship.

What are the benefits of PhD internship?

Internships offer a wide range of benefits for PhD students. Apart from the obvious benefit of real life application of your research, internships also provide you with important career related skills such as communication, networking, and professional skills.


Such skills can come in handy during the career transition process, be it post-graduation or while making a shift in the industry. They also help you gain valuable insights on the industry standards and expectations and help you adjust better to the industry environment.


Moreover, internships also provide an opportunity to build a professional network and to collaborate with people from different universities and industries, which can open new avenues of learning, collaboration, research and career opportunity.

Additionally, internships also provide a platform to develop your leadership skills, an important trait to have as a PhD student. This can be done through courses, workshops, or simply from leading your team in a project, which can help you gain self-confidence and be a leader whenever the situation arise.

When to do a PhD internship?

The best time to do an internship would be during the mid-stages of your PhD, preferably when you’re close to completing at least one or two major milestones in research. This would enable you to leverage the skills, knowledge, and experience gathered from your research and apply the same to the internship project.

Another important factor to consider is timing. Internship projects are usually short term, so it is important that your internship does not overlap with any other major commitments such as exams, conferences, or other research milestones.

While some might argue that doing a PhD internship would eat away into the vital time that could have used for your research, this a trade-off one needs to evaluate carefully.

Internship could easily turn into an opportunity in disguise: a future job opportunity, potential industrial contacts for subsequent funding, academia-industrial collaboration and a whole lot more.

Having said this, it should be noted that there is nothing to stop ESRs from doing a PhD internship much later into their PhDs though there needs be a strong motivation and a well thought through plan for such a decision.

What to look for in a PhD internship?

When doing an internship, make sure to carefully read the project requirements and ensure that it aligns with the goals of your PhD. While the focus should be on the project’s outcome, also look for opportunities to enhance skills such as technical, managerial, and leadership, as these are essential for both research and industry job.

It is also important to assess the organization or mentors involved in the project, as they have a major role to play in providing relevant exposure and learning opportunities.

Additionally, look for projects or organizations that can provide a platform to present your research or make published contributions, as these can help you build your profile and career.

What should be the ideal length of PhD internship?

The ideal length of an internship can vary from a few weeks to a few months, and the duration should be determined based on the project requirements, scope, and the learning objectives involved.

Ideally, look for a project that offers enough time for a meaningful learning experience, which allows you to apply the concepts of your PhD and gain valuable insights which can be beneficial for your research.

How does the PhD internship work?

Typically an internship of any form involves the short-term transfer of personnel (intern) from one organization to another, allowing the personnel involved to work in a different environment, take on a different set of challenges, and develop new skills.

A PhD internship consists of a particular form of this exchange between an academic department and another body within the institution such as inter-departmental exchange or a third party in the private or public sector such as the industry.

How to find PhD internships?

Internships are usually found as part of your university’s job portal, research and industry collaborations, or university-wide events such as hackathons or seminars. You can also search for internships through websites such as LinkedIn, Indeed, and Google.


Most of the research group leaders are also active on the academic side of Twitter  and you can easily follow them to learn about such internship announcements proactively.

Additionally, make use of your network and contact relevant organizations , universities, and research labs to inquire about internships.

Another great way to find internships is to stay active in relevant student groups, where you can learn about internship opportunities and reach out to mentors.

How to plan for PhD Internships?

Planning for a PhD internship involves a couple more steps than just searching for an opportunity and applying. Even before going out looking for a PhD internship, here are couple of considerations to plan for PhD internships:

Identify how the internship will help with personal growth

Getting an opportunity to undergo a PhD internship, be it paid or unpaid, is a golden opportunity for ESRs to develop their personal and professional profile for the career ahead.

Experiential learning allows ample opportunities to not only pick up on-the-job hard skills specific to your research niche, but also numerous soft skills.

These could include skills like, working partly independently and partly as a team player; interfacing with technical and managerial teams; supporting the growth of the team with sporadic tasks and so on.

These soft skills are intangible assets that stay with you for the longer term so be very clear with what all aspects of personal and professional growth you would want at the end of your internship.

Think of this as a Return on Investment (ROI) on your time and efforts during the PhD internship.

Identify what you can contribute as an intern

Knowing what you want is one thing, but as an ESR there would also be critical things you can contribute during your tenure as a PhD intern.

Start thinking about what all such aspects you can bring to the table even before you start reading the job descriptions.

This will help you prepare unbiased application packets and go in with the right motivation.


Symbiotic relationship

Internship is a symbiotic arrangement wherein not only does the intern get to learn and grow in the process, the organization hiring the intern also benefits from their contributions. So, before applying be sure to bring your best value to the table.

Once you have secured the internship, look at it as an opportunity to learn and not just as a job. Reach out to mentors to get insights on the best practices, proactively look for the transferable skills and knowledge, and learn how to work with a team.

These are just a few considerations that need to be taken into account when planning for a PhD internship. Doing your research and forward-planning can help make the most of the experience and the internships can be a great platform for personal and professional growth.

Key takeaways

Internships provide a unique opportunity for PhD students to gain real life application of their theoretical knowledge and skills, and enhance their professional and career prospects. Therefore, it is important to carefully consider and select the right internship opportunity which can provide a platform to present your research and enhance your skills.

When looking for PhD internships, it is important to assess the project requirements, duration, organization, mentors, and outcomes. Additionally, you should also plan ahead and identify how you can contribute to the project and your personal and professional growth objectives. Doing so can help maximize the outcomes from the internship and make it a worthwhile learning experience.


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