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Improving your employability: the value of internships

27 March 2018

As any recent graduate will be able to tell you, the current job market is more competitive than it has ever been. The good news is that, as a postgraduate researcher (PGR), your employment prospects are better than any other student. According to the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey for 2015/16, 89% of PGRs find employment within six months of graduating. This is four points higher than the figure for taught postgraduates, and 16 points higher than the figure for students graduating with a good first degree. PhD graduates also earn more money. Research by Vitae shows that the median salary for a PhD graduate is £35,000; £3,000 more than taught postgraduates and £10,000 more than undergraduates.

That said, planning for a post-PhD career can also be an uncertain process. This is the case because the career intentions of many PGRs and their eventual destinations often do not match up. The latest statistics prove this. In the 2017 Postgraduate Research Experience Survey, exactly 50% of respondents stated that they intended to pursue a career in academia. The other half mainly saw themselves ending up in other professional occupations, with 14% wanting to pursue a research career outside of academia. In reality, however, we know that only around two-thirds of PGRs will go on to secure an academic career. This means, by extension, that increasing numbers of PhD graduates are being forced to seek careers in sectors and roles that they had not envisaged or planned for.

Now more than ever, therefore, there is a need for PGRs to stand out from the crowd. There are a number of steps that you can take to do this, such as participating in the transferable skills training that the Doctoral Academy offers. But an equally effective step – and an increasingly popular option – is to undertake an internship. Not only does this give you direct experience of the workplace, it also provides you with an opportunity to expand your skillset and to establish professional networks.

To provide PGRs with more opportunities to strengthen their employability, we are currently working in collaboration with Careers & Employability to create a range of internships in industry and the third sector. Through these insight opportunities, PGRs will work in small teams to undertake a research project for an employer, produce a report, and deliver a presentation. The project will run over a two week block and each student will have a maximum of 70 hours each to spend on this before presenting their results and possible solutions/recommendations. Students will also complete a reflective log and diary to document the skills gained during the project.

We are currently putting the finishing touches on the project and will be announcing further details in the near future. So if you’re interested in gaining some work experience, strengthening your transferable skills in the workplace, and also getting an insight into a role or sector that you may not have considered before, keep your eyes peeled!

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