If you are a 2nd/3rd year student thinking about what to do next summer , an internship is a fantastic first chance to gain experience in conducting research. Receiving the opportunity to choose your own project and see how research is done first-hand provides invaluable experience for the future (like doing your thesis), even if academia is not your career path of choice. Every summer, there are various undergraduate interns working on fascinating projects at the School of Psychology. In 2021, I was one of the summer interns in the school, which was an experience that I’ll always be proud of and one that I would highly recommend for everyone else.
If you are considering doing an internship, I’ve compiled all my advice from getting started to doing the actual project itself below.
Step 1. Identify a supervisor / a project
If you don’t already have a project in mind, the best place to start is to think about a supervisor, as you will be working quite closely with them. Even if you have no clue as to what you would like to do or who you would like to work with, the staff profiles on the school’s website (https://www.abdn.ac.uk/psychology/people/index.php) usually have brief summaries of each person’s research area along with some publications that they’ve been involved in. Read through some papers and see what you find the most interesting. It’s good to have some options - sometimes your first choice might not be taking interns or they’ve already chosen theirs. That’s also why it’s good to start thinking about this early! You should usually pick a supervisor around January latest.
Once you’ve identified a supervisor, compose an email where you’ll introduce yourself and state your interest in working with them. It’s good to demonstrate that you’ve actually read their papers and are genuinely interested in their research area, but there’s no need to start summarizing their papers back to them. The key thing is to show that you’re motivated to work with them!
When your supervisor has picked you as their intern, I would also recommend discussing with them how they like to teach and how they prefer to communicate. If you feel like you have certain needs in terms of teaching, whether it is to work very independently or to require lots of contact, it’s good to discuss that early. That way, you both have a clear idea of how things are going to work when you actually start your internship. Either way, personally I would recommend suggesting regular meetings to catch up about what’s going on.
Step 2. Funding
As great as it would be if we could all do internships without funding, the reality is it’s just not possible for everyone (like myself). Have a think about next summer and what your situation is going to be - it is completely okay to tell your supervisor that if you don’t receive funding, you’ll need to adjust your internship according to your job (or whatever pays the bills). In that case, it’s also really important to think about your wellbeing and how much you can realistically take on - that should always come first. In fact, I would recommend discussing options if you do/don’t receive funding early on. That way you both have an understanding of what the internship is going to look like beforehand. The unfortunate thing is, you usually find out about funding fairly late in the spring, but that’s why it’s important to make back-up plans early.
Funding applications can differ quite a lot - I completed quite a few and the requirements can be very varied. Regardless, many of them will be requiring you to produce a personal statement that should cover why you and your project in particular should receive funding. It’s good to start drafting that fairly early on - think about what this project means to you and why you think you should be funded for it. Your personal statement is usually really important, so make sure you’re happy with it. Your supervisor might also look over it and see if there’s any suggestions.
Additionally, you might be also asked to get a letter of recommendation from a member of academic staff. Sometimes it can be your supervisor, but an application is usually stronger if it’s someone else. For instance, if you’ve ever volunteered or otherwise worked more closely with someone else from the staff, they might be a good candidate. If you have anyone in mind - contact them early on so you have everything ready on time (not three days before the deadline like me).
Funding applications can be stressful, but just keep in mind that you’re doing the very best that you can and let your application speak for you. Although most of the work will be on you, your supervisor can also provide support and advice, because after all they’ve probably done loads of funding applications as well!
Step 3. Start your project
Once you have a project, a start date and know about funding, it’s time to begin! Remember to ask about anything that’s unclear to you at all - the worst thing is to be left alone with any issues you might have. Internships are a learning curve; no one is expecting you to know exactly what to do from the start, so ask ALL the questions you have in mind. It’s better to ask than to assume wrong. Your supervisor is there to help and support you through your project. There are also other interns that you can talk to who will be in similar situations in case you are struggling or just need a chat.
At the end of the day, doing a summer internship is such a cool experience and you will walk away from it with so much useful knowledge and experience (along with a nice addition to your CV). Good luck!
Veera is currently in her 4th year of an MA psychology degree.