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Guidance for Supervisors

What is the PIPS programme and why is it important?

Professional Internships for PhD Students (PIPS) aim to provide BBSRC funded PhD students with the opportunity to carry out a non-academic work experience placement during their PhD. Such experience is important both to help early career researchers understand the context of their research and to expose them to the range of opportunities available to them after they graduate.

Who can/should carry out an internship?

BBSRC expects all PhD students funded by a DTP award to carry out an internship. BBSRC would welcome research institutions extending the scheme to other PhD students, but the costs cannot be covered from the DTP Training Grant.

CASE students funded by a DTP may also carry out an internship although this is not compulsory as CASE students gain an understanding of working in a non-academic environment. However, BBSRC recommends that DTP CASE students are encouraged to consider taking an internship to further broaden their experience, for example in a school or policy setting.

Students awarded a Policy Placement can count this as their PIPS experience.

When should the internships take place?

Some students may feel that their internship should be taken at a certain time of the year or at a particular stage of their PhD, in order to avoid disruption to their project. For example, fieldwork or seasonal variations should be taken into account. Therefore, flexibility will be important and the timing of the internship should be considered on an individual student basis.

Options include taking the internship at the following stages:

  • Towards the beginning of the student’s project, i.e. sometime during their first year. This might involve fitting the internship around an existing orientation or lab rotation programme and will avoid interrupting the PhD project. However, students will be less well developed at this stage and may prefer to progress their main PhD project first.
  • In the middle of a student’s project, for example during their second or third year. Benefits of this include the student’s research being more developed; giving them a chance to ‘step back’ from their project to help them understand its context before the main part of the project is completed; and having time to consider the type of internship that would benefit them the most.
  • Towards the end of a student’s project, for example during the third or fourth year, after the majority of practical work has been completed, or even after submission of the thesis. Benefits of this approach include the student having better developed skills; avoiding interruption of studies (if the internship is at the very end of the PhD); and giving the student a chance to consider the context of their PhD project before it is completed.

Will the quality of a student’s PhD be affected by an internship?

No – it is vital that PhD programmes prepare students to use and develop a range of research-related skills outside the academic research environment. These skills will then help students to become better researchers or could be used in related careers, by understanding the broader context of their research. Most PhD students complete their PhD in less than four years so the internships should not affect the time students have to complete their studies. Increasingly, academic examiners understand that a good quality PhD should not just be measured on volume of research, but involves the development of the individual as a researcher.

Will PIPS affect my institution’s submission rate?

No. PIPS should be taken within the standard four year period for a full-time PhD programme, and students should be expected to submit within this period as normal.

Why should students be required to take an internship if they are set on an academic career?

Only a minority of PhD students will progress into an academic career and those that do have little experience of understanding the context of their research in a nonacademic setting. PIPS are intended to provide students with an early opportunity to develop a broader understanding of how their research training can have an impact in the wider economy and society. They are also intended to widen their horizons to the range of careers open to them.

How will the internships be funded?

Internships should be funded as part of the PhD using the BBSRC Training Grant. BBSRC funds all studentships as full 4-year awards.

Student stipends should continue as normal throughout the internship and reasonable travel and subsistence costs should be covered either from the Training Grant, through other university resources, or through contributions from the host organisation. Normally all costs directly incurred by the host as part of the internship project should be met by the host organisation, but DTPs may wish to offer funding support from the Training Grant in specific cases (for example, to help with the cost of materials for a schools project). All Training Grant terms and conditions will continue to apply whilst the student is taking their internship.

How will students benefit from taking an internship?

There are lots of reasons for taking an internship. These include:

  • providing direct experience of working in a professional environment that does not directly relate to their PhD project
  • making a positive contribution to the work of their host organisation(s) by, for example, managing a non-research project, developing policy, undertaking a discrete research project in industry, enthusing the next generation of researchers, and communicating science to a broader audience
  • helping students to understand the wider context of their research
  • giving students the opportunity to consider the direction that their career might take after completing their PhD, and broadening their horizons of the areas where their training can make a distinctive contribution
  • building confidence and making students more well-rounded individuals
  • giving students a chance to see the ‘big picture’ of their research and making them better researchers as a consequence.

What will my institution gain from the PIPS scheme?

The benefits of the PIPS scheme to the research organisation include:

  • building collaborations with non-academic partners
  • linking research with policy-making, business or the public
  • demonstrating the wider context of research
  • promoting the excellence of the institution to prospective students and employers by managing a range of fulfilling internships.

What will the host organisation gain from the PIPS?

The benefits of the PIPS scheme to the organisation hosting the student include:

  • establishing, maintaining or developing collaborations with academic partners
  • developing links with specific research areas, including bringing the expertise and experience of research trained individuals to policy analysis and development
  • working with a highly skilled individual on projects that might not otherwise be undertaken, such as a short research or business development project
  • providing staff with experience of line management over a short, defined period
  • renewing the enthusiasm of staff (e.g. teachers, policymakers, project managers).

What types of internships are suitable?

BBSRC anticipates that the PIPS programme will be used to provide students with experiences in a wide range of workplaces.

For all internships, the experience should not be directly related to the student’s PhD project. PIPS are intended to help students understand how their research and professional skills can be used in a more broadly relevant context. Research roles in academia or research institutes are not appropriate, even in an area unrelated to the student’s PhD project.

Internships should ideally be discrete projects that are well planned and managed. They should provide experience at a level appropriate for a postgraduate student.

Examples of different types of internships include:

  • Industry:
    • a short desk-based research project
    • o review or analysis of manufacturing, processing or production techniques
    • non-research roles such as
      • marketing, publishing or sales
      • business development or project management
      • legal offices
      • internal audit or consultancy
      • Teaching – in schools, using the Researchers in Residence scheme1, or through other mechanisms
      • Policy – developing policy or working in a related setting, such as a government department, local authority, non-departmental public body, professional association, charity, research funder or medical organisation (such as NHS Primary Care Trust)
      • Media – a wide variety of roles are possible here that help students understand the wider societal context of their research. Such internships could include working in science communication roles or other roles in:
        • press office
        • science publishing company
        • zoo, museum or botanic garden.

Does this replace other generic or core skills training?

No, PIPS should be taken in addition to existing generic and core skills training. Refer to the BBSRC Skills Statement for further information about the training that BBSRC expects all PhD students to develop during their PhD. However, PIPS could be used to develop certain core skills further; for example, all students are expected to develop public engagement skills and an internship within a school would help to meet this.

Do internships have to be for 3 months?

Consultation with BBSRC Training Grant holders, students and potential host organisations has indicated that an internship of around 3 months is appropriate. Shorter internships are less likely to provide adequate experience outside the research project environment, and longer internships could interrupt the PhD project.

The internship may be taken either in one three-month block or in a number of shorter blocks. This will depend on the preferences of the student and host organisation, as well as the type of internship. Internships could be hosted by more than one host organisation if this is considered appropriate. For example, a student may wish to work for a month in each of three different schools.

What if a student is studying for a PhD on a part-time basis? Can their internship last for up to 6 months?

Yes. Internships should also be taken by part-time students and the duration should be calculated on a pro-rata basis.

What about students with disabilities?

The needs of students with disabilities should be considered during the organisation of internships within institutions. All students funded from the DTP Training Grant are expected to carry out an internship at some point during their PhD.

Can internships be carried out abroad?

PIPS can be taken abroad but any extra costs associated with this should be met by the research institution and/or host organisation. It is likely that most students will be able to carry out good quality internships locally.

Information taken from the BBSRC website – http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/web/FILES/Guidelines/dtp-faqs.pdf