Professional Internships for PhD Students (PIPS) aim to provide BBSRC funded PhD students with the opportunity to carry out a non-academic work experience placement during their PhD. Such experience is important both to help early career researchers understand the context of their research and to expose them to the range of opportunities available to them after they graduate.
BBSRC expects all PhD students funded by a DTP award to carry out a placement.DTP funded CASE students may also carry out a placement although this is not compulsory as CASE students gain an understanding of working in a non-academic environment. However, BBSRC recommends that DTP CASE students are encouraged to consider taking a placement to further broaden their experience, for example in a school or policy setting.

There are lots of benefits of a PIPS placement. These include:

  • providing students with direct experience of working in a professional environment that does not directly relate to their PhD project
  • making a positive contribution to the work of host organisation(s) by, for example, managing a non-research project, developing policy, undertaking a discrete research project in industry, enthusing the next generation of researchers, and communicating science to a broader audience
  • hosts gain students who have first-class or good upper second-class BSc degrees from respected institutions and have been through a stringent selection process to enter into this higher degree programme. They are all academically able, intelligent and motivated students with good communication and interpersonal skills, making them a great asset to host organisations.  These students might be future employees!
  • helping students to understand the wider context of their research
  • giving students the opportunity to consider the direction that their career might take after completing their PhD, and broadening their horizons of the areas where their training can make a distinctive contribution
  • building confidence and making students more well-rounded individuals
  • giving students a chance to see the ‘big picture’ of their research and making them better researchers as a consequence

For all placements, the experience should not be directly related to their PhD project. PIPS are intended to help students understand how their research and professional skills can be used in a more broadly relevant context. Research roles in academia or research institutes are not appropriate, even in an area unrelated to your PhD project.

Placements should ideally be discrete projects that are well planned and managed. They should provide experience at a level appropriate for a postgraduate student.

Examples of different types of placements include:

  • Industry:
    – a short desk-based research project
    – review or analysis of manufacturing, processing or production techniques
    – non-research roles such as:- marketing publishing or sales, business development of project management, legal offices, internal audit or consultancy.
  • Teaching – in schools, using the Researchers in Residence scheme, or through other mechanisms
  • Policy – developing policy or working in a related setting, such as a government department, local authority, non-departmental public body, professional association, charity, research funder or medical organisation (such as NHS Primary Care Trust)
  • Media – a wide variety of roles are possible here that help students understand the wider societal context of their research. Such placements could include working in science communication roles or other roles in:
    – press office
    – science publishing company
    – zoo, museum or botanic garden
The BBSRC funds student stipends during their placement and provide limited funds to cover travel and accommodation costs. If possible, the PIPS host organisation can help to subsidise these costs. Normally all costs directly incurred by the student as part of the placement project should be met by the PIPS host organisation.

Consultation with BBSRC Training Grant holders, students and potential host organisations has indicated that placement of around 3 months is appropriate. Shorter placements are less likely to provide adequate experience outside the research project environment, and longer placements could interrupt the PhD project.

The placement may be taken either in one three-month block or in a number of shorter blocks. This will depend on the preferences of the student, yourself as well as the type of placement. Placements could be hosted by more than one host organisation if this is considered appropriate. For example, a student may wish to work for a month in each of three different schools.

Some students may feel that their placement should be taken at a certain time of the year or at a particular stage of their PhD, in order to avoid disruption to their project. For example, fieldwork or seasonal variations should be taken into account

As part of the SWBio DTP, we strongly encourage students to take their placement within years two or three. The reasons behind this is that:

  • Their first year is very demanding with an assessed taught programme and short rotation projects to complete.
  • In your fourth year, they will be busy completing their PhD and writing their thesis. Also there is the possibility that if the placement falls through, students may not have the time to organise a subsequent placement.
  • During the second and third year they will be more developed as a researcher; giving them a chance to ‘step back’ from their project to help them understand its context before the main part of the project is completed; and having time to consider the type of placement that would benefit them the most.
Only a minority of PhD students will progress into an academic career and those that do have little experience of understanding the context of their research in a non-academic setting. PIPS are intended to provide you with an early opportunity to develop a broader understanding of how your research training can have an impact in the wider economy and society. They are also intended to widen your horizons to the range of careers open to you.
PIPS can be taken abroad but please think about the extra costs involved with a placement of this type. It is likely that most students will be able to carry out good quality placement locally.

No – undertaking a placement is to help develop a range of research-related skills outside the academic research environment. These skills will then help you to become a better researcher or could be used in related careers, by understanding the broader context of your research.

Most PhD students complete their PhD in less than four years so the placement should not affect the time you have to complete your studies. Increasingly, academic examiners understand that a good quality PhD should not just be measured on volume of research, but involves the development of the individual as a researcher.

Yes. Placements should also be taken by part-time students and the duration should be calculated on a pro-rata basis.