4

So I founded a company as a PhD student and I want to work on company products over the summer times. Do I take a leave of absence or can I take an internship at my own company during that time?

What's the right way to do this?

11
  • 5
    Leave of absence from what? The company or the doctoral program?
    – Buffy
    Aug 31 '20 at 19:59
  • 41
    This sounds like an XY problem to me. Can you maybe start with explaining what the problem/goal is? What is it that you want to achieve? I think that will be more effective than starting from your solution ("interning at your own company", whatever that means).
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 31 '20 at 20:09
  • 3
    A possibly minor point is about letters of recommendation later: probably your own letter for yourself from such an internship wouldn't carry much weight? Aug 31 '20 at 20:28
  • 3
    @FourierFlux Guessing it's going to be between you and your university whether or not it's okay to use their internship rules. They may define what exactly an internship is, and limit it to particular companies or experiences providing certain educational benefits like training, which you can't provide at your own company.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 31 '20 at 22:14
  • 3
    What country are you in? I'm in physics in the UK and a friend of mine did exactly this. He was allowed to pause his PhD for the duration of the internship and got funding from the research council to pay for it.
    – astronat
    Aug 31 '20 at 22:17
26

can I take an internship at my own company during that time?

As a matter of pure semantics, I think the answer is that you cannot logically intern at your own company, in the sense that being a founder, owner, and regular employee (let alone CEO or some other high-level function which presumably you have) of a company is a distinct status from that of an intern. So being an intern at your own company is simply a notion that doesn’t make sense.

However, this seems to be just a matter of how you phrased the question. What you really seem to be asking is a slightly different question, which is, if I’m understanding correctly:

will working over the summer months at your company satisfy your school’s requirement that students in the program you’re enrolled at do research or an internship over the summer?

The answer to that is:

  1. Only your school can say for sure. You’ll have to ask them. But also,

  2. I think it’s very likely that the answer will be yes, at least if your school is reasonable and your company can be convincingly shown to be doing interesting things that are related to the kind of research your program wants students to be doing.

What's the right way to do this?

Explain the situation to the people at your school and ask them whether they would approve for you to keep working at your company over the summer months in lieu of the usual internship/research requirement. Be prepared to explain what kind of work you’ll be doing and to provide evidence that the company is a real company working on real things. It might be helpful if you have other people who are involved and can attest to the nature of the venture, such as a co-founder or investors, since trying to convince people based on your word alone might come across as a bit sketchy, at least if the venture is new and still hasn’t produced anything substantial.

Good luck!

4
  • 8
    I'd say that "no" can also be a rather reasonable answer. For example, if they don't believe you'll get the guidance they want at your own company, or if they expect to be able to talk to your superior at the company (or perhaps even if they have doubts and don't want to spend the extra time validating that you'll be getting the things they want). It very much depends on what the aims of the "summer internship" are.
    – Jasper
    Sep 1 '20 at 11:07
  • 3
    @Jasper if they “expect to be able to talk to your superior” and that’s the only reason for denying your request, then, respectfully, they are idiots. Starting your own company shows a much greater level of industriousness and entrepreneurism than interning at someone else’s, so yes, denying the request over such narrow-minded concerns would be unreasonable IMO. The only reasonable reasons I can think of for denial would be if OP’s company is not a real venture but something that exists only in OP’s head, or is based on an clearly foolish idea or one that’s in a completely different industry.
    – Dan Romik
    Sep 1 '20 at 14:05
  • 1
    It really depends on the region you live in whether this is allowed. I've had a classmate who had himself and 5 of his classmates as interns. That was sufficient, I would just ask your school about it. Sep 1 '20 at 14:31
  • @DanRomik Well, if they already had confidence in your industriousness and entrepreneurism, and working in a team is a focus of the summer program (and getting unbiased account on how that's going is considered important) it makes perfect sense. And that's my point: it all depends on what the aims of the program are.
    – Jasper
    Sep 2 '20 at 9:14
8

What are your school's policies and practices for summer activities?

The university where I received my MSci required summer work in order to receive full funding. My PhD institution only required work for the main nine months of the school year. Summer work was optional and funding was limited.

This is very much dependent on what your school requires. If they require you to do research in summers to receive funding, then you will need to work something out with them and no one here is going to be much help specifically. If you are free to do what you want in the summer, then I guess that solves your problem.

If you have to go through some loophole such as one where your school requires you to either do research or an internship, then maybe you will have to do an internship for your self. That would be a really strange policy though.

Do keep in mind a balance of goals. You only have so many semesters to work through your degree before your school begins to push back. Most places (at least in the US) do not like their PhD students taking more than six years (or so) to complete a PhD. Summer research can be an important component of timeline management. On the other hand, industry/"real" experience can be very vital long term for your career.


I will add that you may need to examine how substantive your business idea/company truly is. I have no idea one way or the other how significant your work is. Maybe it will be the next Google. Maybe it will be an app that has fewer than 100 downloads. Be careful to balance credible research experience with experimental personal projects.

(I only bring this up because I recently had a job applicant who essentially "interned" for himself for a year. He produced an app with fewer than 40 downloads and it was only very loosely tied to his actual field of work. He acted like he should be given credit for a significantly impactful work, when it was in fact an app that essentially already existed and to which he had just added some gingerbread).

3
  • 2
    Agreed. My PhD stipend included research during the summer. In the early years summer was the time to focus on getting projects going.
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 31 '20 at 20:50
  • I have some ideas involving sensor fusion and computer vision for DoD and police applications. I would consider making it as part of a PhD but I don't want the university to make money off my idea. Aug 31 '20 at 20:57
  • 2
    @FourierFlux Never say never of course. But I do wonder if you will be able to successfully sell a product to DoD while also pursuing a PhD on a separate topic. I get that universities can be black holes for privately created IP, but you may have a very hard path ahead of you if you try to balance two independent projects like this. (For reference, I work for the DoD as a researcher, so I am decently familiar with how this works). Again though, best wishes. Maybe you will surprise someone.
    – Vladhagen
    Aug 31 '20 at 21:12

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.