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The difference between an internship and a PhD

05 October 2017

Ida Norberg, who recently completed an internship at GCPH, reflects on the experience.

Saying that a PhD is different from doing an internship is perhaps a severe case of stating the obvious - the transition from a PhD did not seem, in theory, to be too great. The internship I recently completed at GCPH looked at the future trends facing social protection services and whether changes to the way that social protection is delivered can create more positive outcomes.

The internship was the product of a partnership between GCPH and What Works Scotland to investigate the possibilities and limitations of basic income, which will soon be trialled in several Scottish cities. The report that this project will produce will be available soon and published on the GCPH website.

Broadening perspectives

The project is similar to my thesis but with an important distinction. In my thesis, I look at how disabled people in Sweden have been impacted by austerity measures. This is essentially looking at the development of social protection in Sweden for disabled people. This internship in some ways follows in that vein but it enables me to broaden my perspective and adopt a future-oriented perspective instead of being confined to the limitations of the present-day situation.

I knew somewhere, in the back of my mind, that an internship was a completely different beast than trying to get a doctoral qualification. Yet nothing could quite prepare me for what it was actually like embarking on my first week as an intern. It turned out, to my great surprise, that the biggest shift in doing an internship was not the topic or even the method of working – it was working in an environment with people who were not filled with perpetual PhD existential angst.

Being a PhD student is a lonely business. You are under pressure to produce a mammoth amount of work in a short space of time. Three years is the ideal and for what you are asked to do, it is not a lot of time. Ultimately, most of your socialising gets reduced to a cup of coffee before heading back to the office to try to squeeze out another 5000 words by Monday.

Acquiring new skills

The long-term planning that a PhD requires has impacted me but it was not apparent just how much until I was asked to make notes on a discussion for an event relating to GCPH’s young carers event. What was a minor task could just as well, in my head, been translating ancient Greek. This train of thought continued for the next few days, until, moments before the event was due to take place, I was asking myself whether I actually could do something that I had not spent two weeks researching. Turns out I could.

I have learned many things as a result of my internship here at GCPH. I have learned how to facilitate events and how to use a semicolon. Some of these have been more of an adjustment than others. The best skill, though, that I have learned is brevity and efficiency. Because the internship is only for three months, we have had to undertake a great deal of work in a short period of time. Assisting at events like the young carers event or playing the Glasgow Game with people from the Commonwealth Leadership programme have also allowed me to see how to apply these things in practice. It also emphasised the importance and necessity of working together with people, recognising complexity, and hearing as many perspectives of an issue as possible. 

Going from a PhD to an internship is a little bit like starting to go to the gym compared to just getting about your day-to-day life. You exercise muscles you forgot you had and move in ways that you ordinarily maybe don’t (unless you were late for the bus). It is not so much that you cannot do it. The skillset and faculties you have are pretty much the same but they are applied in different ways. Initially, it might feel a little strange and unsettling but, eventually, you develop a rhythm and settle into it.

We are currently writing up the report. It is therefore mostly about keeping your head down and trying to squeeze out another 5000 words by Monday. That, I know I can definitely do. 

Read another perspective, from Ida's fellow intern Rachel, in her blog.

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About the author

Ida Norberg Student

Contact

Ida is based at the Strathclyde Centre for Disability Research, which is within the School of Social and Political Sciences at The University of Glasgow. She is currently undertaking a PhD in Sociology (looking at how disabled people in Sweden have been affected by austerity measures), which is funded by the ESRC. 

Read all blog posts by Ida Norberg

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