Internships, or Where Scientists Have it Easier?

A nicely comprehensive article on internships was forwarded to me by my mother.

I don’t envy Humanities graduates. My budding lawyer, journalist, PR and finance friends are unlikely to land a graduate-level job until they have (preferably) several internships completed. The stories I’ve heard about trying to break into media via BBC internships in London sounds harrowing. I’ve also heard anecdotes about what happens when a employer doesn’t know what to do with their new intern: this is when the making of the coffee happens.

…However, I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a whistle-blowing article on internships mentioning the sciences. Pharmaceuticals, petroleum, engineering and manufacturing companies all have advertised placements (between 3-12 months of average duration). Chemical companies have a steady stream of interns, the internships are seen as (a) recruiting grounds (b) very desirable CV points for future scientific careers, just like in the humanities. Yet students don’t seem to complain as loudly or frequently about the pay or tasks assigned, or about the law getting flouted. If these things are going on, they obviously aren’t happening on a significant scale.

Do scientists have it easier? Well, if you believe that internship conditions are influenced by supply & demand, then scientists almost certainly have it easier because there aren’t as many science students as humanities’. Most science graduate careers don’t need  a compulsory quota of  internship experience: were demand to get more clamourous, I’m sure the quality & pay of science internships would decrease.

Employers have to invest a lot more in the training/maintenance of science interns, too. A 6-week law intern will be based in an office and have nothing more hazardous to do than pour boiling water from a kettle into coffee mugs. On the other hand, a lab-based science intern is going to be handling dangerous chemicals, operating powerful machinery and working in ‘high safety areas’. The accompanying H&S material alone will make the internship a far more involved affair for both parties. For this reason I doubt that 1 month science internships will ever catch on, no matter how high the demand spikes.

…The big multinationals usually have coffee machines, too.


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