Research internship scheme for undergraduates

Authors:
Dr Geethanjali Selvaretnam, Senior Lecturer, Economics
Karen Clancey, Undergraduate Programmes Officer
Adam Smith Business School, University of Glasgow

In this blog, we share how we created a research internship scheme for undergraduate students at the Adam Smith Business School at the University of Glasgow (ASBS), explain the process and show how beneficial such a scheme is.

Motivation

Although the ASBS provides an excellent student experience through various activities organised by the student societies or within the academic programmes that develop graduate skills, we realised there was a lack of opportunity for students aspiring to research-oriented careers. There were repeated inquiries by students keen to assist in research projects.  Opportunities to develop skills and educate students of the wonders of research is something that a university should provide as a valuable learning experience.

This proposed initiative benefits not only the students, but also academic staff members in need of research assistants to progress their research activities. Furthermore, it creates opportunities for students to work closely with staff on a key aspect of academia – their research projects. Another important reason lay in providing opportunities for students who were unable to secure internships in industry as they were unable to move to different places due to various personal constraints.

A research internship experience during one’s undergraduate years can encourage students towards research and develop crucial academic skills. There is evidence that research internships at an early stage create opportunities to work closely with experienced researchers, develop valuable research skills, and inspire students into research.[1]

Securing Funds–Geetha

The University has an internship hub where positions for paid work experience are advertised to students. However, opportunities that are suitable for our undergraduate students were rare, and academic staff could not recruit interns unless they had secured a suitable grant. So, we had to find funds to pay the research assistants and create an efficient, effective process. In my capacity as Director of Undergraduate Studies at the time, I prepared a proposal to be approved by the Head of the Business School. Enhancing student experience and developing graduate skills are key objectives of the ASBS, for which support will be given so long as the request is well-founded. The proposal had to be written clearly and convincingly, setting out the needs, benefits and resource needs including manpower and funding requirements. In my initial discussions, some concerns were raised regarding duty of care for the interns in line with university regulations so that they receive a good experience, guidance, and care. I had to explicitly state that these issues would be of priority. Table 1 gives the main factors included in the application, which might be a useful template to consider when making similar applications. 

We were thrilled when the internship programme was approved and set to run during term time from the academic year 2017/18 within the ASBS, with six positions of 100 hours each. But given the demand by students and staff members, I made a further proposal to secure three summer internships. Research activities increase during the summer and research assistantships are of greater necessity to researchers. Moreover, many of our students live in Glasgow over the summer and could benefit from a local opportunity to develop graduate skills and have some income. This initiative is a win-win for students, staff, and the Business School as a whole.

Explaining the Process–Karen

When I was approached to help set up and run this scheme, I agreed because of the obvious value it would add to the student experience activities I look after in my capacity as Undergraduate Programmes Officer. I discussed with relevant people in the College and HR about how our programme might complement existing opportunities; the appropriate pay grade and effective ways to advertise and administer this scheme. It was decided that advertising this position via the University internship hub would have a good reach and bring expertise when shortlisting applicants. A suitable timeline was designed for the smooth running of this scheme as shown in Figure 1. If you want to implement such a scheme, knowing these steps we followed would be helpful.

This image depicts the 7 step process 
Week 0: Accept applications/proposals from academic staff
Week 1: Review proposals and choose which require a staff request on Core
Week 3: Approve staff request and job descriptions sent to E-Recuirtment
Week 4: Job descriptions approved by HR and posts advertised to students (open for 2 weeks)
Week 6: Accept and review applications from students
Week 8: Hold interviews and select successful candidates
Week 10: Send candidate documents to HR to issue contract

Figure 1: Timeline on a 7-step administrative process

First, we make an initial call at the beginning of September (March for summer interns) to all academic staff asking them to prepare a proposal scoping the requirements for their research projects. The person in charge of the scheme scrutinised and selected the most suitable candidates and provided feedback to those who were not successful. The advertisement is placed on the internship hub by the end of September (April for summer interns) and the applications are shortlisted by an HR trained administrator. The supervising academic supervisor interviews potential candidates and the selected candidate generally begins work by the end of November (June) after all HR formalities are complete.

The timeline proved to be challenging at the beginning because of HR staff movement. Delays or cancellations of internships occurred because relevant information could not be secured in time. We were keen to make the process simpler, obtaining all the information needed for HR purposes as quickly and concisely as possible. I worked with HR personnel, Employability officers and potential supervisors to design a proposal form for the academics who were seeking research interns to assist in their research which can be fulfilled by undergraduate students. The form elicits information about the research project, skills needed, the outcome expected from the intern’s work, how the intern would benefit from this experience and secures an agreement about the supervisor’s role such as being in contact with the intern to provide appropriate guidance and duty of care. The template of the form we use is presented in Table 2.  

Successful outcome and Feedback

The success of this initiative is evident from the continuous use of this opportunity by both students and staff. We started this scheme in 2017/18 and it initially ran for two years. It is in operation again this academic year after a brief hiatus. It has proved popular with both academic staff and student applicants and it is this demand from both parties which is key to its success. Up to now, it has provided valuable research internship experience to 24 undergraduate students in the ASBS who provided valuable assistance on research projects. On the completion of an internship, the student interns and academic supervisors are asked to give some feedback. We end this blog with Figure 2, giving some soundbites by some participants who share their experience of this undergraduate research internship scheme.   

“I had a very positive experience with an absolutely excellent student. She was very able to work under her own steam with an initial few meeting to outline what I needed. She produced an excellent report with very detailed information which will be very useful to us in our planned research. If they are all as good as her then definitely I would do it again.”
– Jeanette Finlay (Senior Lecturer)

“The experience of working with my intern was a very positive and productive one. I would indeed employ a UG intern again the future, should there be a good match between a project and a candidate.”
– Prof Georgios Panos

“Interning with the ASBS has provided me an excellent opportunity to work alongside experts in the field of business and develop my skillset, especially in data analysis. My confidence in working in a professional environmental has greatly increased and has better prepared me for graduate role applications.”
– Jan Tomasik (Intern)

“It was a great learning experience. I am really glad to have had the opportunity to be part of the Adam Smith Business School team because the research skills I learned during my internship help me organize my own research better now during my PhD studies.”
– Nick Scholz (Intern)

“The feedback that I have received from my supervisors throughout the internship will resonate through the remainder of my studies, and serve towards guiding my completion of academic work, most importantly my dissertation. The opportunity to work on tasks including literature surveys, data set exploration, and quantitative analysis using statistical software serve as important transferrable skills towards employability in the fields of data analysis and research.”
– Intern from Junior Honours

“”I enjoyed working with my supervisor, especially given the highly collaborative nature of the project; the degree of influence I had over the direction of our work positively surprised me. This level of personal responsibility challenged me to do my best and come up with my own ideas and solutions. I would definitely recommend trying a similar project to others.”
– Tomas Kessl, (Intern from Business and Management, currently Senior Associate at BCG)

Links and Resources

Templates for free download

Resources Referenced in Post

[1] https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2003/05/benefits-undergraduate-research

https://students.dartmouth.edu/wisp/internships/about-internships/benefits-internships

[2] http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/rsio/

[3] http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/careers/employers/offer/#/employerguidelines

[4] http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/rsio/

[5] Students may not be aware of what constitutes significant contribution to a research project.

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