I returned to Bloomington this week from a three-month internship at Procter & Gamble Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. The experience was an eye-opening and memorable one. I was very lucky to have a graduate adviser who was supportive of my internship. Although internships are great opportunities for us to explore the real world and should be encouraged for those who want to pursue an “alternative career” (non-academic path), our life science majors often times find it difficult to justify an entire summer off for something that will not be directly applicable to our dissertation research. Let me explain why (I can speak for Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biology, and probably Psychology and Neuroscience majors).
The average years to finish a life science PhD degree here is about 6 years and this is based on 40+ hours/week lab work. Graduate assistantships in the forms of teaching assistantships and research assistantships are guaranteed for 5 years in PhD programs. You definitely want to finish sooner than later so you can get on with your own life. If you have a fellowship or are supported on a grant given to your graduate adviser, you can just focus on your dissertation research. If you have to teach to earn the stipend, which many graduate students do, you will put in +20 hours/week for teaching duties on top of the lab work for your own research. Therefore summer becomes the most productive time of the year. So in either scenario, taking off a summer mostly likely means a delayed graduation. My adviser warned me of this consequence and I accepted it because it had been a dream of mine to work at P&G and experience the culture of a big consumer product company. I’m glad I did and I learned tons during the time I was there. I worked on a project that required intensive collaboration both within the company and with external resources. I enjoyed working with multiple teams and learned to make decisions and recommendations based on business needs. I got to see how upstream research drives innovations and discoveries that touch and improve people’s lives around the world. This experience has provided me insights and perspectives that will greatly help me choose a career when I start looking for jobs. It was probably the best summer I’ve ever had during my school years.
If you need a piece of advice for careers, I would suggest that if you are interested in an occupation, find ways to immerse yourself and explore it. You will not regret that you did.