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I am a PhD candidate in computer engineering. I've just finished my 2nd year. I finished all courses and passed the comprehensive exam. Currently working in a nice research project in collaboration with a big company but I haven't published yet.

I applied and got accepted into a one-year-long internship at the same company (20 hours a week) in the very same topic. I see it as a great opportunity because I want to work in the industry after my PhD and the internship fits perfectly with my research and thesis. But my supervisor disagrees with me and doesn't want me to take it. He thinks that it will compromise my PhD and told me if I take it, that will be at my own risk.

What should I consider when making this decision? How should I weigh this opportunity against my supervisor's advice?

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    What does your supervisor mean specifically with "it will compromise your PhD"? Have you asked? Dec 17 '20 at 12:03
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    Yeah. What is special about this internship is that it perfectly aligns with my research work. They are in the same specialization but the tasks will be mostly coding something that can't contribute to the thesis but I will be gaining more practical insights about the same problem I am trying to tackle in my research work
    – Ramy Fouad
    Dec 17 '20 at 13:17
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    A company's plans can change. Make sure to have their word (ideally in written form) that you will get to work on this particular problem for the entire time. Before you agree, you can prepare a summary of the conditions and send it to them, so you can come back to it later. Dec 17 '20 at 13:20
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    This discussion shouldn't revolve around pure logic and what is reasonable. You have your ideas of what your project is, but your supervisor's project is you. If he thinks the project isn't going well (main resource shows lack of commitment, unreliable, etc.), then it's pretty much a self-fulfilling prophecy that your PhD will be "compromised". Dec 17 '20 at 21:55
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    Keep an eye on the big picture: if you want to work in industry, then start to work in industry as soon as possible, with, or without having a PhD degree. But, please be prepared, that you might never earn a PhD.
    – Matsmath
    Dec 17 '20 at 22:18

10 Answers 10

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Make a decision. Do you want a PhD or not. If you do, then make that the priority. Such opportunities as the internship will probably come along later. The doctorate would probably be harder to restart if you stumble.

Your advisor is giving good advice provided that the PhD is what you want.

Slowing down your research may get you scooped before you complete it, requiring at least a partial restart. Why take a chance.

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    I want to do a PhD but also I want to gain professional experience for my career development. My end goal is to work in the industry, and what is special about this internship is that it perfectly aligns with my research work. I guess I may not be able to find another internship that is the same in the future.
    – Ramy Fouad
    Dec 17 '20 at 13:21
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    @RamyFouad I guess one problem is also the specific setup of this internship. I'm very open towards my students taking internships, but a year is a very long time - I would also be nervous. A more common setup that I would feel a lot more positive about is 3 months during summer and full-time rather than a whole year 50%.
    – xLeitix
    Dec 18 '20 at 8:14
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    @RamyFouad do not leave this decision on a guess. Try to gather data on how many job & internship opportunities there are in this field. Contact your professor's network, recruiters, search people on linkedin and the company's main competitor. You may find the market very different than expected. Dec 18 '20 at 22:02
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In general, doing an internship around a 3rd year into the program is close to ideal as many people agree. But doing any internship in graduate school might not be ideal in the first place, thus you have to carefully think this decision through.

In the comments, you mentioned the details of the conversation with the advisor, which I summarized in two points:

  • ...based on his [advisor's] previous experience, he [advisor] had 2 students who did an internship and got a job offer at the end of it and then they made their PhD part-time
  • ...I [the OP, the PhD student] will be given so many tasks and I won't be able to progress in my research

Neither of that "compromises your PhD" directly. Both part-time PhD and temporarily (within the internship duration) slowing down the progress to your research — is not the end of the world.

However, it is a matter of priorities:

  • Will the internship contribute to your experience and\or PhD thesis?
  • Do you have a goal of finishing PhD in a specific time frame?
  • Do you want to risk potentially not completing the degree due to many unmentioned but probable issues?

Also, consider if you are currently involved in other research projects (individual or group) within your university and have any responsibilities, deadlines, funding issues. For some of them, you might not be directly and legally responsible, but your advisor might be. This also has to be taken into consideration.

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  • I assume you mean, in the first paragraph, that the timing is ideal, if an internship is to happen at all.
    – Buffy
    Dec 17 '20 at 14:46
  • @Buffy yes, I slightly reworded it based on the fact you added the comment. Dec 17 '20 at 14:48
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It's tough to pass on opportunities, but I have to second what your advisor said (or third, given Buffy's answer saying the same). The situation you describe is very common in my field (economics), and both I and a lot of my classmates got offered very good jobs as soon as we were ABD.

The PhD-completion rate of classmates of mine who took jobs is far, far lower than those who buckled down and finished their dissertations without taking a job. Of course this is certainly not an unbiased sample, which makes Buffy's comment about deciding your priorities even more pertinent.

Just don't underestimate how much harder you'll make it on yourself to finish if you end up with other commitments, especially if those commitments end up being lucrative. I personally both took a job at ABD and finished my dissertation, but I'm in the minority and it added probably two years to the dissertation process. Other classmates ended up with very good positions, chief data scientists and researchers and such, but every single one of them I've spoken with wishes they had finished their PhD too. It's very hard to work a full day and then come home and work some more, especially when both require a lot of similar brain power.

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Other answers haven't directly addressed the duration of the internship or the relevance to your dissertation. In for example Computer Science, it's totally fine and encouraged for students to take shorter, summer research internships (3 months) where the goal is to produce publishable work related to their thesis topic. That's a win-win.

Here, the first problem is that one year is a really long time, and it's not clear if a nominal 20 hours/week will really leave you plenty of time and brainpower to do other PhD stuff. You could consider reaching out to your contacts at the company to see if a shorter internship is available, like summer-only at 40 hours/week. Your advisor might be happier with that.

The second problem is whether the work would be helping you toward graduating or publishing. I'm a bit confused about this because you said you're currently doing publishable research in collaboration with the company. But your advisor is skeptical that the work you'd do there would help you toward getting your PhD. Maybe it would be proprietary? So figure out whether the internship would contribute to your PhD objectives or not. But again, even if so, one year is a long time.

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It comes down to whether you want a PhD or not. If yes, then as Buffy & Jeff have already written, you should decline the internship because it will distract you from your thesis. 20 hours/week is a substantial demand on your time, so you will undoubtedly take longer to finish.

However, and especially since you've said you are looking for an industry job afterwards, there's a real chance the answer could be no, you don't want a PhD. That's because one of the biggest reasons to get a PhD is as an enabler for a job - it provides you with the skills/qualifications to do something you wouldn't otherwise have been able to do. If you've already been offered what you consider as an ideal job then that's a big reason why you might not need a PhD. I certainly know many people with PhDs in industry who think doing their PhD was a mistake because of the opportunity cost.

Ultimately it's a decision you will have to make for yourself. One thing you could try is postpone the decision - see if you can negotiate the internship for a shorter time, say 3 months, and at the end of those three months decide if you want to convert to full-time.

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I did an internship as a PhD student and it was very beneficial for me. I was able to earn more as a student, I got great experience working on a problem relevant to the company I interned for, and I got a great job offer after graduating. One thing that was key to all this working out is that my department was supportive of it. I had to get a second co-advisor to do the internship, because it was in a different area of study than my first advisor was working in, but she was supportive of still working with me to finish the project that we had started, and both co-advisors were supportive to continue on as a co-advisors until I defended my mixed thesis. The department chair was also very understanding and willing to sign off on an unconventional path towards graduation. They saw it as an opportunity to fund another student (since I no longer needed/qualified for support through a teaching assistantship), and as a way to secure good placement for one of their graduates. The nature of the work I was asked to do by the company was also legitimately research that led to a couple publications.

I mainly decided to write this to offer a contrary view to most of the answers here. It can be a very good thing to do an internship during a PhD program. I've known several others that have had similar experiences to mine at the company I work and at other research focused companies in industries related to mine.

The advice that I would give is that if the work that you would be doing for the internship could result in publishable research, then it might be worth the effort to talk to somebody more than just your advisor. See if the department chair would be supportive, if they are then see if your advisor might reconsider, or it might be worth talking to other professors to see if they would be willing to support such a project. If on the other hand the internship would be work that would be distracting from your PhD, then I totally agree that you should probably not do the internship if you are serious about completing the PhD.

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    I think you leave out important details about your experience: how long was it and how many hours. In my opinion, the issue is not if an internship would be helpful, but if a one year long internship is too long. Working 20 hours per week will definitely slow the PhD down, and it is very likely that the student will actually work more than 20 hours per week. Many students can overcome doing this for 3 months, but I am not convinced that many students can overcome doing this for 1 year.
    – Nick S
    Dec 20 '20 at 5:06
  • For me it was 3 years, 40 hours a week, but the company was effectively paying to influence my research direction to answer a question they were interested in. For them it was a lot cheaper to sponsor a graduate student to do it than have their full time staff spend time on it.
    – rviertel
    Dec 21 '20 at 22:33
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During my PhD, in the third year (out of 4-5 planned), I got the opportunity to be hired by an large international high tech company for a great position. I took the opportunity and agreed with my supervisor that the thesis would take longer.

Like you, I wanted to go to industry after my PhD so I could not pass on that opportunity, I would rather resign from the PhD (with much, much sorrow).

The difference is that it was a job, a long term full-time position.

If it was an internship then I would have passed and followed-up on my PhD. Internships are great, but they are just this: internships. You do something loosely related to the announcement and then maybe you get an offer to be hired, or maybe not. There are plenty of internships.

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Do not assume that you have to choose between the two options.

First explore the ideal scenario, and only if that fails, consider choices.

Communicate with the company (not the HR, but with the employee who interviewed you / was interested in you / your research), and explain to them, that while you really want to do the internship and the position is exactly what you're looking for, it would be ideal if they could wait for X months for you to start it. Work with your professor to find some arguments about why it would be risky to your PhD to undertake the internship.

Best case scenario they will tell you that you can finish the PhD (or be close to it), and then get the internship.

Another possibility is that they will not be able to guarantee you the position after a X months (3-6 is a commonly accepted waiting time for a new employee joining), but still this does not mean that you will not be able to get the internship.

Depending on your field, it may be time critical to start as soon as possible, or it can not matter too much (they can wait a year). In addition keep in mind that internships are effectively free labor for the company, meaning that it's unlikely that they would not extend the same offer in the future (unless the team/department gets disbanded for some reason). Finally, when getting new employees or potential employees, what matters most is mindset/personality fit with the team, if you have that, it's likely they can wait.


If it turns out that you cannot get an extension to the offer, you can think of the following:

  1. How easy is it to get similar internships? Try to apply to some, or at least discuss it with other companies in the field. If the field is extremely niche, then it might be hard because there are too few companies, or easy because there are too few candidates. This will help you evaluate the opportunity cost.

  2. What is your end goal? If it's academia, focus on the PhD. If it's research/knowledge and working in the industry is a happy opportunity to do that, then you have options.

  3. Taking the internship and not completing the PhD, is this an acceptable outcome?

  4. How easy is it to find a job in the field? Try to actually do a job search, contact people working in the industry (or use the network of your professor) or at the very least have a talk with a recruiter. If there is demand for people with your expertise, losing the internship is not a big deal, as a job is incomparably better than an internship.


Good luck, don't stress about it too much, but try to gather as much data as possible to make an educated decision, hindsight is 20-20.

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Taking a long year Internship, depends on many conditions. For example, currently an experience is offered to you while many people are spending money for COVID-19 situation. Other conditions are the relations with your current situation (the country (or place) that the offer has emerged, the relation of the career with your university, etc). Are these conditions i line with your current situation? For decision making you can vote each of these conditions in a list. Here the experience of others is more important than a spectral specification. Speeding in gathering information about the career is more important than every comment without experience from that career. However, having a way step by step is better than doing some special steps together at once, without quality. About decision making, if you are in PhD state, it seems you want to be in relation with universities than industry. Hence at first finishing the PhD step, then do other works.

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You have already invested the years to get your doctorate. Don't throw that away, because you'll need it.

While actually doing things in industry you will run into obstructive people. When managers don't know enough to make an informed decision they cover their butts by siding with the most formally qualified opinion. Being right won't help you when the referee doesn't understand the argument.

I took the other path a long time ago and learnt this the hard way.

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