Internships are a great way to find out if a career in research is for you, but how do you find one?
Who am I?
My name is Seren and I’m one of the OxWEST scholarship recipients. I’m about to go into my 4th year of a biochemistry integrated masters at Oxford in September, and I’ve just finished the first month of a 3-month internship at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, near Munich in the Department of Totipotency. Last summer I was going to intern at a lab in Oxford’s Department of Biochemistry but it fell through due to COVID. Since I am planning on applying to do a PhD after my biochemistry degree, I was eager and determined to get some research experience this summer, to learn some techniques, and to confirm if research is something I’d like to pursue further. In this first blog post I’m going to explore some different ways to get a research internship in the first place - if you haven’t done it before it can seem quite overwhelming, but the experience is worth it!
First, you need to find an internship you want to apply to! I used a combination of googling internships for areas I’m interested in, the careers service website, and the presentation hosted by the Department of Biochemistry at end of Michaelmas where students who have completed an internship that summer presented where they went and what they did. Some colleges also host these. These presentations are fantastic to attend because it means you can speak to people directly about the experience and get some advice on what the application is like.
“Cold emailing” research groups/ professors is also a really good strategy, and there’s lots of great advice on how to do this! You might not hear back from most of the people you email, but rejection is very normal, so don’t worry! The main advice for doing this is to keep your email quite short, explain why you’re interested in the lab (area of science and techniques they use), and how you can be useful (e.g. prior experience/skills), and don’t send the same email to lots of different groups – people can tell when an email is generic, and this will almost always lead to instant rejection.
Once you’ve identified some internships in the field/using the techniques that you’re interested in, you can think more deeply about what type of internship you want. Do you want to just be in a lab, or a summer school where you can meet other interns, or in a company/industry? How long do you want to be interning for? Do you want to be in the UK, or abroad? How are you going to fund your internship? Some internships are funded already, most colleges provide ways to obtain some funding, societies like OxWEST can offer scholarships, and your department may also offer funding – all of these are great places to look!
Once you’ve found your internships, now you need to apply! My main piece of advice is to apply to as many as possible (I applied to around 7), because there are so many talented people applying, so rejection is very common. You might need to write a long statement of motivation, or you might need to only supply a CV. Internships can ask you to write about why you’re interested in a particular lab - for this, the “cold emailing” advice applies. The Careers Service runs lots of presentations throughout the year on how to write a CV and cover letter – I found this really helpful and would recommend attending! Often a “referee” or someone to write a reference for you is required – it’s a good idea to ask your tutor to write one of these for you, because they usually know you well and have probably got lots of experience writing these for other students in the past.
Different applications have different requirements, however, don’t be put off if you don’t meet all of them. My internship said that prior research experience was required to make a strong application. I didn’t have any, but because I had a strong practical and academic record, I still got an interview, where I could show my interest in the field and the program. There are also research internships specifically for people with no prior experience, e.g. the UCL Institute of Child Health.
Speaking to the other interns, I found out that almost all of us didn’t think we were “good enough” to get a place, but we’re all here and having a great time! Please don’t let any imposter syndrome get in the way of you applying! Rejection is very normal (I got rejected from several other internships that I applied for), so apply to as many as you have time for, making sure each application is a good reflection of you and your abilities.
The start of my internship
In the coming weeks I’m going to write more about what I’ve been doing on my internship, but to give you a taster, here is a photo of me with a few of the other interns at Lake Eibsee where we went to visit a few weekends ago!