Mutually Beneficial: PGR Internships in Higher Education

By Emily Hay, PGR Events Intern in the Research Culture and Researcher Development Team

Whilst the term ‘internship’ may conjure up images of young team members running around getting coffee and breakfast for their seniors, doing arbitrary filing and generally being at everyone else’s beck and call, that’s no longer (necessarily) the case. In Higher Education, paid internships are becoming increasingly common to help bridge gaps in student provision, as well as giving those students an opportunity at meaningful professional development. Within the University of Glasgow Research Culture and Researcher Development team, the role of PGR Intern has been well-established over the past few years. Recently the team has welcomed both PGR Events and Communications interns, as well as the addition of PGR internships in the Research Staff Events and Research Culture spaces.

The best part about these internships is that they are mutually beneficial for the intern and the team in which they work – or at least that has been my experience. I am now finishing up my past year as PGR Events Intern, a role which I came to after a shorter role within the same team helping to deliver the Guild Summer School in Summer 2021. In the past year I have become a fully-fledged member of the newly established Research Culture and Researcher Development team, have had access to working with a team of people dedicated to developing the skills of researchers (whilst being a researcher myself), and have been able to enmesh myself more fully into the PGR community around me. In turn, I have brought my own skills and experience to bear on the work I’ve been tasked with, creating meaningful change in the way that we administer our competitions and events.

Hiring PGR interns to work on matters concerning PGRs provides a wealth of possibilities to engage researchers. Interns help to bridge a gap between PGRs and full-time staff working in Researcher Development, because we occupy a kind of liminal space between the two. We can often bring a more realistic perspective on the day-to-day reality for postgraduate researchers, what initiatives they will appreciate versus the ones that will merely pass them by. As interns, we can have our ears to the ground in a more meaningful way than full time staff.

In addition to this, we are also able to foster community in a much more natural way than if it came from staff alone. Our PGR competitions (3 Minute Thesis, Visualise Your Thesis), Lunchtime Walks and PGR Gardening benefit enormously from having a PGR figurehead to guide them – the community comes together more naturally, and engagement with Researcher Development as an entity grows as a result.

On my own part too, it has been exceedingly useful to see how higher education works from a different angle, which isn’t always visible to us when we’re enmeshed within our academic subject areas. It has shown me that there are jobs in the field of higher education which, whilst not exactly devoid of demanding workload, do not idolise overwork or lack of breaks in the ways which academic research culture in many ways still does.

That is perhaps my biggest lesson learned to take forward into the rest of my own research and professional life. There will always be more work to do than you have time to do it. In the finality of my internship, it has been easy to get frustrated at the ideas I had that I wasn’t able to bring to fruition, at the loose ends I’m leaving behind for my successor. Yet, the reality of working life, especially in higher education, is that the work always keeps coming, and it is never worth overworking yourself one week in a never-ending attempt to get on top of it.

I am both happy and sad to be finishing my internship. On one hand I would love to go on working with an incredible supportive and creative team of professionals dedicated to developing the potential of researchers. Yet on the other hand, internships are finite for a reason. I have had the opportunity to develop and fine tune so many of my skills, to run such an amazing range of events, but now it’s time for someone else to experience the benefits of those experiences. They will likely make something different of them than I did, and that’s the real beauty of creating internship spaces in your team – things will never stay stagnant from one year to the next.

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