Industry internship – against all odds?
If you are not certain whether or not you want to pursue an academic career, the industry internship provided by the Centre for Digital Life Norway could be an excellent opportunity to help you decide. For me, it certainly did, even though several unexpected things happened along the way.
Industry internship – why did I apply?
During the fall semester of 2019, the Centre for Digital Life Norway announced the possibility of appying for a three-month industry internship. Being in the final year of my PhD contract, I saw this as a possibility to get a glimpse of working life outside of academia. Also, not having decided whether to pursue an academic career or not, I thought this internship, if I would get the opportunity, would help me choose what I want to do after finishing my PhD.
- Read about how the Centre for Digital Life Norway has worked in a unique national collaboration to get the internship initiative up and running.
What to do when important events in life happen all at once?
In the time between the application deadline and the phone call in mid-January where I was offered the internship, I got pregnant. When I received the call from Liv in Centre for Digital Life Norway Research School offering me the internship, I was on sick leave due to a heavy morning (or rather “all day”) pregnancy sickness, and must admit that I, at that point, had forgotten all about the internship application. After receiving the call, I was a bit unsure about what to do. I really wanted to take advantage of this unique possibility that I was lucky enough to be offered. At the same time, I was dependent upon the internship taking place in Bergen (no companies in Bergen was on the original internship list) and also, I really did not know when and if my pregnancy sickness would be relieved. However, I decided to go for it. The flexibility and cooperation of the Digital Life Norway people involved in the internship process to help me find a suitable internship in Bergen, led me to STIM, a company located just next door of my university office.
STIM is a private company with offices located several places in Norway, that provides services within fish health, environmental surveillance, and production counselling within the aquaculture industry. I already had some knowledge regarding the environmental services of STIM, due to some collaboration with them during the early days of my PhD. I was certain that working in STIM would let me use some of my knowledge on environmental pollution, but in a different way compared to academia. In STIM, they work hard to acquire clients by offering a number of environmental-related services, and thereafter plan, execute and report on findings related to these services. The combination of field and office work is somewhat similar to what I am used to from the university, however working for paying customers that in turn are controlled by national regulation, require a different format of planning experiments/sampling and presenting results. I therefore expected to get an insight into new ways (for me) to apply environmental data.
Along came corona – but the show must go on
To make sure I had time to finish my internship before my maternity leave, I started in STIM already 1st of March. Luckily, I was feeling more like my normal self again, and I could go straight into my assigned work, which included reviewing current surveillance programs for various STIM clients, working on reports of ongoing surveillance programs, and also organising existing data for multiple purposes. However, as for the rest of the world, the corona situation came crashing down at us and only two weeks into my internship, I found myself home in my apartment, trying to keep up with the tasks given to me. Fortunately, these tasks involved a certain amount of data assembly from analytical work and presentation of these results into written reports, which was manageable from the home office. Also, I was still able to participate in smaller sampling expeditions, and thereby see how STIM work in the field, both with client contact and the actual field setup and sampling procedures. In this way, I got involved in the whole pipeline from planning, participating and writing up results from surveillance programs.
What did I gain from my internship?
I finished my internship only a few weeks before my maternity leave. Despite everything, the internship and the tasks involved turned out to be quite similar to what I expected. I also felt that I was allowed to make significant contributions to the daily work within the STIM environmental team. In addition, I could confirm that combining desk work with planning and executing field work, suits me well. Finally, the internship enabled me to establish a strong link to a possible, future employer, which is something that I really appreciate.
Take-home message: Just do it!
For all young Digital Life Norway researchers out there, I really recommend applying for the industry internship, if you get the chance. Gaining working experience outside of academia is valuable not only for your future career, but also possibly to see your academic work in a different way than before. My final recommendation is to seize every opportunity you get – even though these opportunities sometimes arise simultaneously with everything else in life.
Karina Dale is a PhD student at the University of Bergen.