Since I want to do science communication, there aren’t that many long-term internships that I am actually interested in, at least not compared to people who want to be various shades of banker. My boyfriend wants to work in insurance though, so I’ve seen two pretty different sides to applications for internships and work experience.

Both have their pros and cons—science communication is a very diverse field so it can be hard to find places that take interns, whereas it is easy to find a list of insurance companies with open summer schemes, but the applications for these are normally completely noxious. (This is probably to put you off applying if you aren’t that interested, which I expect does save them quite a lot of picking through candidates who don’t really care, but even so!)

Internships at Big Scary Companies

I will start with the insurance applications because the same kind of process seems to apply for all big companies, and Alex had his first assessment centre last week, so is further through the process than I am. 🙂

The first stage of the joyous process involves multiple pages of questions like ‘who would be your ideal client?’ and ‘tell me about the most innovative way you’ve learnt something’, as well as endless typing out of your personal details and a huge explicit breakdown of your degree modules and grades.

Once you’re through that section you have a barrage of online tests to deal with—numerical tests, verbal reasoning tests, personality tests. This is despite the fact that you have already negotiated your way through their chunky applications, so you can obviously verbally reason with the best of them, and are doing a maths degree. But of course, an online multiple choice test that takes twenty minutes is surely a much better criteria to judge candidates on than a lifetime of continual assessment in maths.

Even these hurdles only get you through to a phone interview. Alex has done one of these for Allianz already—they require a lot of preparation—researching the insurance industry, as well as the company and going over what you decide your strengths and weaknesses and similar rubbish.

If you get through all that, you finally get called to an assessment centre for a day of more interviews and presentations. Alex had his Allianz assessment centre last week in this awesome hotel just outside of London with towers and a lake and an all-you-can-eat breakfast. I went along with him for moral support and for the breakfast 😛

Anyway, his assessment centre was with seven other people also applying to underwriting, and consisted of a presentation about the company, an hour long interview, and a presentation that he had to prepare about where a new restaurant should open. Apparently everyone there was lovely and went out of their way to make the students feel comfortable. The whole emphasis of the morning seemed to be figuring out if the candidates fitted in personality-wise, which was kind of unexpected as Allianz is such a huge global company! Between the interviews and presentation there was a chance to talk to some people on the graduate scheme, and afterwards there was lunch with the interviewers.

It sounds like a pretty nerve-wracking experience, but it sounds like he got on with everyone and somehow managed to sustain his enthusiasm for an hour long interview at nine o’clock in the morning! Looking back on it though, it was not half as bad as it could have been—it genuinely was a chance for him to ask lots of questions about the company and get an idea of the type of people that he might end up working with. This is a huge benefit of dong internships and work experience before leaving university, because it gives you a chance to rule out what you absolutely don’t want to do.

Science Communication Applications

I am going down a different route, as I mentioned, and am not really applying to these huge companies. I have contacted a lot of people about work experience this year with mixed success—mostly just emailing people to see if I could come in and see what they do/volunteer. This starts off as quite a daunting task, but once you’ve done it a few times it becomes far more routine and less scary.

I’ve not heard back from over half of the emails I sent out, and some others that I have heard back from have been really strange and frustrating, and I have had to give up on them in the end. Yet others have replied once to say ‘yes we would like you to come’ but then never got back to any of my emails about sorting out dates. However, those few emails I have heard back from successfully have got me some really interesting work experience.

I am now in the process of sending out another wave of emails and applications for summer placements. I am going to apply to the Science Museum to help with exhibit planning for a month, to the Wellcome Trust for a longer, two month internship for an editorial placement and the BBC to work on ‘The Sky at Night’. I am also planning on emailing some production companies who produce documentaries and science programs, Imperial’s PR department, Sense About Science, the Royal Institute and Okido (a children’s science and art magazine), for shorter work experience placements that I can fit in around a main internship, if I manage to get one! (Fingers crossed!)

Imperial hosts loads of careers fairs, which are always interesting to browse around (not to mention I got this free pencil case of jelly beans from one today!!)

Jelly beans

They are good places to look for job and work experience ideas, outside of what you might have thought of. Just today I went to a careers fair on the way back from lectures and found this really interesting company called ‘Sparx’ that is trying to use data analysis and scientific methods to determine how best to teach children maths. This company completely interests me, as I am fascinated by evidence-based education (my mum is a teacher and is constantly baffled by seemingly pointless changes in the curriculum based on what seems to be pretty sketchy evidence.)

Moral of the blog…

The word ‘internships’ can strike fear into undergraduate’s hearts, and for some good reasons… The application process can be time consuming and boring, and with so many excellent applicants applying for every place, there are going to be days and days of rejection.

However, if you look at it for what it really is, researching internships is a chance to find and find out more about whatever really interests you and how you can continue to do that. My list of applications above (Wellcome Trust, Science Museum, Sense about Science etc etc) are all institutions that I look up to immensely and would love to have a chance to snoop around, let alone work for. If you aren’t inspired enough to get through the applications, then it is probably better to find out now and think of something else that you really want to do, rather than wait until the end of your degree to freak out!

Good luck to everyone applying (unless it is for insurance or science communication of course) 😉

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