Why you should consider doing an SGSAH internship

This month marks around a year since I completed my SGSAH internship – I can’t believe how fast the time has gone! Since a new round of internship and artist residency opportunities are now available (check them out here and here they’re open to all arts and humanities PhD students in Scotland, whatever your funding source!), I thought I’d talk about what I gained from my experience. While my internship was a little different as I had arranged it myself (AHRC-funded PhD students have the opportunity to do a student-led internship – have a look at the SGSAH intranet for more info, as it’s definitely worth considering if you’re eligible!), the benefits of any internship, whatever the type, are applicable to everyone.

Though you might (understandably) feel reticent about taking time out from your PhD and worry about losing track of your research, in a weird way, it’s actually helpful. I’m sure a lot of you, like me, find yourselves staring at your computer screen for hours, the ideas just not flowing – but as soon as you step away and redirect your attention to something else, lightbulbs start turning on in your head. For me, doing the internship was like this. I’d be working on something completely different from my PhD, not even thinking about research, and suddenly an idea would pop into my head, as if my subconscious was still silently mulling things over in the background. It’s funny how spending time away from the books can actually really help you – sometimes, what you need most is to take a step back and engage your mind in something else.

P1020959Immersing yourself in a whole new world outside of your research is also incredibly eye-opening. While I was working on the same topic in both my PhD and internship (wolves), so it sounds like I wasn’t outside my area of research at all, I was actually looking at the animals from a completely different viewpoint. I study wolves in Anglo-Saxon literature, but during my internship I was looking at wolves in real life, and the issues surrounding them today. I learnt a lot in areas completely unrelated to my PhD (biology, ecology, socio-cultural research), and gained an insight into the world of wolf conservation, which I previously had next to no knowledge of. In turn, I was able to apply what I had learnt back into my PhD, as it helped me understand why studying how wolves are treated in literature and culture throughout history is important today. While this in part was because I was working on the same topic, it’s still the case that even if your internship is totally unrelated to your PhD, it might help you gain a new perspective, a new way of looking at the world and your research which will generate new ideas or pathways for exploration.

Internships are also a great opportunity to experience the other types of careers outside of academia you could pursue after finishing your doctorate. In fact, for me, the internship completely changed my plans. When I decided to do my PhD, I had an archival or academic career in mind. But it turned out that I loved all things conservation, and I found a little niche where I could use my training in literature and culture and apply it to understanding how the historical perception of wolves influences attitudes today, which in turn, I hope, can help contribute to wolf conservation and reintroduction.

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Luckily, the internship also afforded me the opportunity to pick up some skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to develop, but which will be useful if I go on to work in this area. I learnt how to carry out socio-cultural research; work with the public; conduct surveys; and write reports, among many other things. And even if you end up going back to academia permanently after your internship, or into an entirely different area, you’ll still have developed skills that are useful additions to your CV and make you a more well-rounded candidate for any career that you end up pursuing.

I also gained some personal skills, which I wasn’t expecting. I’ve said previously that there are downsides to going straight through higher education, one of the biggest being not having a lot of work experience. Before the internship, I was dreading finally getting out into the ‘real world’ – academia is the only thing I have done full time, and sometimes research feels like the only thing I know how to do. But having time outside my PhD to see what the world of work is like gave me a much-needed confidence boost, to realise that I was capable of doing something outside the academy. It also showed me that I can face my fears of new experiences and meeting new people, and that my anxiety won’t hold me back in the future when I do finally take my first steps into full time work.

P1030359Some great opportunities also came of it. Off the back of the internship, I was approached by the editor of the Reforesting Scotland journal, and subsequently wrote an article for them which came out last winter. I was also asked to speak at a public event about conservation by colleagues at the University of St Andrews. Then, someone at that event who had heard my talk put me in touch with The Conversation, who recently published another of my articles. Other opportunities are now coming up because of this last article, but which aren’t fully realised yet, so I won’t jinx it by saying too much!

None of this would have happened without my internship. Honestly, if I had reached this point in my PhD without having done the internship, I think I might have been a bit lost – beforehand, I was already starting to realise that neither archival work or academia post-PhD were really the right fit for me. But now I have something new and exciting to aim for, and some achievements under my belt to help me work towards the career that the internship gave me the opportunity to discover that I wanted to pursue.

We are always seeking new guest bloggers! If you have an idea for a blog post or would like to informally discuss writing for the SGSAH blog please get in touch with Lizzie via email at egm9@st-andrews.ac.uk or connect with the blog on Twitter

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