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I still have 2-2.5 years of my PhD program, but it want to try my skills in programing, especially in the taste of data science (needless to say, I do it overnight for some hobby projects and I like it a lot).

Moreover, as working in companies may seem as one of the options "what to do after getting PhD", I would be nice to test how does it work for me in practice, and to learn skills, network, etc.

Is there such a thing as internships (e.g. in data science or programming) for PhD students?

If so, where to search for them?

(If it changes anything, I'm doing PhD in EU; but US would be a nice target.)

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Yes this happens all the time. Often you can find nice research internships by talking to your advisor (who probably knows someone) – Ben Bitdiddle Jan 22 '15 at 18:05
@BenBitdiddle (I am after PhD; and I had a very nice internship in Bay Area.) Well, if my advisor had known then I wouldn't have asked it here. :) – Piotr Migdal Jan 22 '15 at 21:37
up vote 13 down vote accepted

Yes. Almost every PhD student in my (US computer science) department has at least one summer internship between admission and graduation. In fact, most PhD students go through multiple internships.

Off the top of my head, I know CS PhD students who have interned at Google (Mountain View, Manhattan, and Shanghai), Facebook, IBM, AT&T, Yahoo, Motorola, Microsoft Research (Redmond, New England, and Bangalore), Disney, Zynga, Los Alamos, Sandia, Argonne, and Livermore. Most of these places regularly advertise for interns on the web.

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I heard it from my friends doing PhDs in US (and also googled some stuff for them). However, I hardly see anyone doing the same in Europe. But them I have no idea if the companies are not interested (e.g. extra cost, no established contacts), no such culture in Europe (not that unlikely) or they are discouraged/not allowed (I'm not even sure if at my institute I can, but they are pretty open, so I will try). – Piotr Migdal Nov 21 '12 at 11:25
@PiotrMigdal: At least in some European countries (and possibly only in some fields), that may be related to the circumstance that such internships are usually done at some point between starting one's studies and getting the Master's degree (or equivalent). Some majors even require such an internship of at least a few months as a mandatory precondition for graduating. Once you have that degree, you enter your work life, either in the industry, or in academia while being a doctoral candidate, i.e. you are kind of past the point where you do internships rather than getting a permanent job. – O. R. Mapper Jan 22 '15 at 21:28
@O.R.Mapper Actually, most of the internships in my list were held by PhD students who were well past the master's/qualifying exam hurdle. Late PhD students are more likely to get research internships, which can help immensely in getting a research job (either industry or academia) post-PhD. – JeffE Jan 22 '15 at 22:30
@JeffE: Granted, I have seen doctoral candidates do proglonged business trips for "exchanges" or "stays at other organisations" to see another research-oriented workplace beside their regular one. Usually, these are also meant to strengthen ties and further collaboration with the organisation one stays at, e.g. to promote the research of one's regular department, to serve as a liaison in a mutual project, or to draft a project proposal together with the other organisation for an upcoming mutual project. I presume those are such research internships and different terminologies are used. – O. R. Mapper Jan 23 '15 at 8:08
@O.R.Mapper Nope. They're internships, hired through the company's internship programs. Research in many computing companies looks a lot like academic research in computer science departments, except that industry researchers aren't surrounded by graduate students, who are an enormous source of energy and ideas. So they use internships to attract graduate students over the summer, and those interns become research collaborators, just as they are in their home departments. – JeffE Jan 23 '15 at 10:30

(Perspective from Germany)

  • I've been programming for an IT start up as undergrad student (got in contact when one of the founders gave a presentation in a series of business start-up talks) and later done data analysis a few hours a week as PhD student for another company. It is done, also in Europe.

  • Big companies offer positions on their web pages, e.g. Merck

  • However, if you receive funding for your PhD project (scholarship), that often forbids further work for hire.

  • The PhD may technically be your "private fun", depending on the field/university/country. If that is the case (here), you often get a teaching assistant part-time job assigned to earn some money. The institues have a real problem of getting the teaching done (to the point that I heard rumours that some departments want to make "did so many hours of teaching" a prerequisite for getting the PhD). These job offers are often not offers the student can take or leave. Refusing to teach may create a lot of bad blood (with the prof, who anyways doesn't have enough people to cope with the teaching workload, and with the colleagues who get a slice more of this work). But it will usually go right to the limit which you need to obey in order not to loose the student status. So in fact, you cannot go for a paid industry job, neither. More importantly, the vacations are the only time when you can continuously work on your research.

  • These rules, however, do not forbid to volounteer in e.g. in open source projects.

  • You may consider Google Summer of Code and similar programs (e.g. Season of KDE).
    It may be easier to convince your funder/employer that participating in such a program has much more importance than just earning some money, and that your contract with them could go dormant for the months in question.
    Disclaimer: I've been mentoring at GSoC before and hopefully will again. :-)

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It's true that you're typically forbidden from doing other work for hire while you're employed by a university. However, for internships people take a leave of absence from graduate work for the duration of the intership (and therefore aren't forbidden from other work as they're not students for that time period). That's the case in most places in the US, at least, and I've been told it's the same in the UK, though I know nothing about the rest of Europe. – Joe Kington Nov 23 '12 at 23:52
As Joe mentioned, I expect to take a leave for the internship period. My main point of getting internship is not to get extra money, but valuable experience (both technical and of working in a company, which I never did). (Anyway, no teaching assistant part-time job at my place.) When it comes to GSoC - you brought an interesting option. However, I doubt that I would help much for persuading (except maybe for max 1 months instead of vacations; especially as my field is theoretical physics). Plus, daily f2f contact with other programmers are crucial for me (I code on my own, anyway.). – Piotr Migdal Nov 24 '12 at 2:19
@PiotrMigdal: I don't understand your sentence "I doubt that I would help much for persuading" (the "for persuading"). Can you explain this a bit more, please? – cbeleites Nov 24 '12 at 17:39
@cbeleites Sure. My point was that I doing open source programming projects still does not count as doing theoretical physics, so doing open source internship (in general, I'm very for open stuff, see most like would not help enough, when it comes to convincing advisor or institute. – Piotr Migdal Nov 24 '12 at 17:48
@JoeKington: Typically here, you have a working contract for teaching of 19.5 h/week (and teach much more). The vacations are then the only time when you actually can concentrate on your research. So you don't want to go working then also. The possibility not to do teaching at your institute is often only theoretical. The institutes have far too few employees to do the teaching, and it has to be done. If you refuse this, your institute will just be mad at you. I heard rumours some departments are considering to make teaching a prerequisite for the PhD degree... – cbeleites Nov 24 '12 at 17:52

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