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I'm wondering what's the general approach to doing an internship as a postdoc?

If you have your own funding as a postdoc and are just interested in doing a short internship in industry (12 weeks) to see what it's like, are there any issues with this? What is the best approach to tell your PI?

Any other issues I haven't thought of?

Thanks!

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  • If it's not related to the postdoc, I would be surprised that you can do it while being employed. The logical thing is to do it before or after the postdoc, or if possible to take a sabbatical from the postdoc (i.e. a pause in the contract).
    – Erwan
    May 22 at 18:22
  • Also the only "reputable source" which could provide an answer is the HR at your institution, because it depends on your work contract.
    – Erwan
    May 22 at 18:46

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As post-doc you are typically an employee of some research institution (which is often also the case when having "your own money"). This poses some duties on you. E.g., you typically cannot work at a competing institution (whether industry or public research) unless your employer allows this. Where I am (Germany), there are also limits on working hours per day/week that limit how many hours you could work in industry in parallel to your usual employment contract - even if the business is completely different from your employer's (in which case your employer must approve of the additional job/internship).

The consequence of this is that you need to talk to your institution about the plan and get approval for this.

If your funding is in the form of a scholarship without an intermediate employer, the terms likely require you to get approval from your funding agency.

The details (e.g. whether you need to take time off) are then negotiated between you and your employer or funding agency.
I.e., you negotiate an additional contract that says you can do this internship.


As one example of a context where this is actually encouraged, and done during working hours: EU COST Actions fund short-term scientific missions where someone (e.g. a post-doc) from one institution visits another institution, e.g. an industry partner.
(Must meet some other criteria, though. E.g., being cross-borders and being in line with the scientific goals of the COST Action)

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As long as it it wouldn't interfere with your postdoc duties or deadlines then I can't see any reason why it would be a problem. I undertook additional work, like internships, during two of my postdocs (in marine science) and it greatly benefited my postdoc research because I gained additional skills and learnt to look at my academic research from a different angle. After finding out about an opportunity, I would discuss it with my PI and how it would benefit my career and even help with my postdoc research. They were always supportive of this as long as it was timed outside field work or didn't distract too much from my writing.

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  • It would be a full time internship though (i.e. 40 hrs/week). I would definitely still try to work on research though in addition, e.g. 10-30 hours / week, so the progress would just be a bit slower as a result.
    – ajl123
    May 22 at 16:27
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The general approach would be to begin with a conversation with your PI. If you have your own funding as a postdoc, you generally have more flexibility than if you were paid through say, a grant by your PI. But every lab/PI has a different culture.

The main challenge is that fundamentally you and your PI may have conflicting interests. You desire the internship presumably to build up your skillset and/or network, whereas your PI has time deadlines for experiments and papers that may not allow for you to commit to an internship. If you have a plan for how you can conduct your internship while providing the least disruption possible to the timeline of the lab's goals, you will likely gain more support from your PI. Think about if your lab has any critical experiments, conferences, or field work and if you could time your internship around that.

Hopefully a PI would be supportive of an internship opportunity as long as it doesn't detract from your research productivity. I would go into the meeting with a clear plan of how you will ensure your work stays on track and how you will maintain communication with the lab in your absence. Would you potentially be learning new skills you could bring back to the lab to teach the PI or students? Might the company you intern at have an interest in funding some of your work in the future? If so, that could be a potential benefit you bring to the conversation with your PI.

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I would consider what you wanted to get out of working for free when you have qualifications that would enable proper, paid work. I understand that your postdoc funding might cover this, but that needs to be cleared by your PI, funder and university, etc. I would consider looking into a MITACs scholarships (Canadian, but perhaps there are partner/parallel schemes elsewhere): these are specifically aimed at linking up postdoc research with industry applications.

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