Internships and Postdocs: Why Bother?

Doing an internship or postdoc can significantly influence your job search. While there is no requirement that you do an internship or postdoc for many industry jobs, doing one can prepare you for entering the world of for-profit science.

A National Science Foundation study, Science & Engineering Indicators--2002 has projected that through 2010 there will be an increased demand for scientists. Early indications from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry suggest that a lot of this demand will come from their sectors. Companies look for candidates with real-world scientific experience. Recruiters I know perceive that internships and postdoctoral experiences in industrial settings provide lessons not available from government or academic experiences. The ability to demonstrate success in an industrial science setting provides candidates a competitive edge when looking for a job. This article will highlight the ways that internships can help you differentiate yourself from your colleagues and provide experiences to inform your career plans and help you find the hard-to-find industrial scientific internships and postdoc assignments. It will also provide you some of the factors to take into consideration when selecting an internship or postdoctoral work.

Insider's Tip #1: Differentiate Yourself

It is important to differentiate yourself through work experiences such as teaching, lab, or research assistantships. But, showing that you are capable of success in an industrial scientific setting will attract the attention of the company recruiters. Many Ph.D. candidates take teaching assistantships to add experience. Too often graduate students TA the same course, in their scientific specialty, several semesters (or years) in a row. TA assistantships are opportunities to learn and demonstrate a broader set of skills and knowledge by teaching different scientific specialties. When pursing teaching assistant assignments think strategically about these experiences as they can make you more marketable in the future when looking for a job. In the same way, doing an internship before matriculating can help select new opportunities when applying for postdoctoral assignments or industrial science opportunities.

Insider?s Tip #2: The Course Not Taken

Pursue internships that compliment your course and lab work. Industrial science recruiting has evolved from looking for scientists whose career path will be a series of experiences within their specialty to seeking generalists who bring a cadre of skills to bear when helping to solve scientific and business challenges. It is my perception that most academic preparation focuses on preparation to work in a scientific specialty area. In government and academic labs, scientific jobs usually focus on that specialty for the duration of an individual?s career. But, in industrial science, projects may lose funding or be eliminated for variety of reasons, at which point scientists need skills and experiences that will contribute to the company in new ways.

Internships give you the opportunities to gain a variety of skills and experiences before graduation. Potential industrial employers will see that you may have the flexibility and nontechnical skills that they need. Recruiters and managers will be impressed if you demonstrate that you have successfully operated in a bureaucratic, regulated, sometimes policy-dictated, protocol-controlled, teamwork- and timeline-driven organization.

Doing an internship can orient you to the differences between academic and industrial science. Ph.D. candidates can test the industrial science setting by taking a pre- or postdegree internship. Although most information about scientific internships targets undergraduates, managers who have identified the funds for an internship are often open to bringing on a Ph.D. to help work on their technical issues for short periods (usually 3 to 12 months).

Interns and postdocs are also an important pool of hiring talent for many companies.

Insider?s Tip #3: Target Your Future Company

Apply for internships and postdoctorate assignments at the kinds of companies that interest you or might be the kinds of places at which you would like to work. Companies promote internship opportunities on the Web, at career centers, on company Web sites, and other easily accessible sources. But, many of the good ones are usually not advertised.

A recent search on, a portal to the job posting boards of a consortium of companies, yielded 17 postdoc opportunities posted for 10 highly regarded pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Many scientific companies do not publicize their openings for postdocs, they identify candidates by professional referrals. Next Wave has highlighted the value of networking and personal contacts in the past, this is another example of their importance to your career.

Insider?s Tip #4: The Value of Professional Referrals

Talk with professors who are collaborating with scientific companies that are of interest to you. If your network doesn't include any professors working with industry or companies of interest, you may need to broaden your network beyond your professors.

Pharmaceuticals and biotechnology companies often have a person responsible for university recruiting. They work closely with career services personnel at your university and sometimes with departments. Seek out these people to learn more about internships in your area. Also, philanthropic and professional organizations have information about internships and postdoctorates. For example, the United Negro College Fund sponsors the Pfizer postdoctoral fellowship, the Merck Science Initiative, and many scholarships that also award internships. Professional associations such as the American Chemical Society sponsor internship programs.

There are also Web sites, such as, the Minority Professional Network, and INROADS that offer information about internships.

Value to You and Your Future

The message here is that you should do a postdoc or an internship. They will provide you with insights into the differences between academic and industrial science, broaden your skills and experiences, and give you an advantage over other applicants who have not had an assignment with the company. If you add an internship or postdoc assignment to your C.V., it will give you the Insider?s Edge.

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