The scheme is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) through their Doctoral Training Programme (DTP), but organised at a local institution level. The University of Cambridge is in receipt of a Doctoral Training Partnership Award from the BBSRC, which funds four-year PhD studentships within the University and partner research organisations*. As part of their funded course of study students also undertake a three-month professional internship.
What is the PIPS programme and why is it important?
Professional Internships for PhD Students (PIPS) aim to provide BBSRC DTP-funded PhD students with the opportunity to carry out a non-academic work experience placement. 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.
What types of internships are suitable?
Experiences in a wide range of workplaces are suitable for a PIPS. They should ideally be discrete projects that are well planned and managed. They should provide experience at a level appropriate for a postgraduate student, who should be provided with day-to-day mentoring to ensure that they are able to develop new skills and engage successfully with their internship.
There are a few rules in place to ensure that the project is a valuable experience:
- The PIPS must last sixty days (see 'Do internships have to be for three months' below for further details)
- The PIPS must not be academic in nature
- The PIPS must not be related to the student's PhD project
The experience should not be directly related to the student's PhD project, as 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 the student's PhD project, as the students are expected to experience work in a professional environment. A non-research role in an academic environment would also not be appropriate, though there is scope to work within a non-academic division of an academic institution. A project within a biotech company may be appropriate, if for example the student was involved in the commercialisation of a product, as this would allow them to develop different skills from those acquired as a student.
Examples of different types of internships include:
- review or analysis of manufacturing, processing or production techniques
- marketing, publishing or sales
- business development or project management
- legal offices
- internal audit or consultancy
- Teaching: in schools or other teaching institutions
- 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 the NHS Primary Care Trust)
- Media: a wide variety of roles are possible here that help students to understand the wider societal context of their research. Such internships could include working in science communication roles, or other roles in:
- press office
- science publishing company
- zoo, museum or botanic garden
How will the internships be funded?
All students will continue to receive their stipend from the BBSRC throughout the duration of their PIPS, and remain registered as a student of the University on the DTP. As a result, they must not be paid for their internship. If this is an issue, the PIPS Coordinator should be contacted to discuss possible alternative arrangements. The Governmental guidelines on paid internships can be found at:
There are funds available to cover the costs of: commuting; travel if the PIPS is not located within commuting distance; accommodation if the student must pay rent at their destination as well as in Cambridge. These expenses should be claimed for by the student in advance of their PIPS. If the PIPS is likely to incur expenses above that which the DTP can cover, the student may ask the host organisation to contribute funds, and may also apply to other sources of funding.
Any costs incurred as a direct result of the student's project work should be met by the host organisation. This includes: working lunches; training; business trips; materials.
Can internships be carried out abroad?
If a student can demonstrate the value of a potential PIPS they have identified overseas, and a lack of similar opportunities within the UK, they are welcome to apply for a PIPS based abroad. It is anticipated that their expenses may be more than the funding available from the DTP, in which case they may need to apply to other sources of funding, and it may fall to the host organisation to cover expenses beyond those covered by the DTP.
What will the host organisation gain from the PIPS?
The benefits of the PIPS scheme to the organisation hosting the student include:
- establishing, maintaining or developing collaborations with academic partners
- developing links with specific research areas, including bringing the expertise and experience of research-trained individuals to policy analysis and development
- working with a highly-skilled individual on projects that might not otherwise be undertaken, such as a short research or business development project
- providing staff with experience of line management over a short, defined period
- renewing the enthusiasm of staff (e.g. teachers, policymakers, project managers)
Do internships have to be for three months?
Consultation with BBSRC Training Grant holders, students and potential host organisations has indicated that an internship of around three months is appropriate. Shorter internships are less likely to provide adequate experience outside the research project environment, and longer internships could negatively impact the PhD project. There is, however, some flexibility.
Students are expected to work sixty full days for their PIPS. It may be that a particular project would benefit from a part-time working structure, but the student would still be expected to work sixty full days in total, and this would need to be discussed with the DTP Coordinator during the planning stages. It may also be possible to split the project up into shorter blocks. This will depend on the preferences of the student and host organisation, as well as the type of internship: again, this should be discussed with the DTP Coordinator during the planning stages.
Internships can even be hosted by more than one host organisation if this is considered appropriate. As a general rule, the student should spend a minimum of six weeks (thirty days) with any one organisation. However, this rule can be relaxed if the organisations and projects are similar enough that the student would continue to develop the same skills with each organisation. For example, a student may wish to work for a month each in three different schools.
Students are not expected to take annual leave during their PIPS. Any time taken off due to national or host-specific holidays does not count toward their total. For example, if Christmas falls in the middle of the PIPS, the project must continue for long enough that the student still works the full sixty days.
Host organisations are expected to record the attendance of the student to ensure that they meet this criterion. Although students are encouraged to detach themselves from regular lab work during their PIPS, they are free to use their evenings and weekends as they wish. However, if this impacts on their ability to perform the DTP Coordinator should be contacted.
What about sickness at work?
Sickness is, unfortunately, a normal part of working life. In general, students are not expected to make up extra time for any days missed due to sickness. However, there are some exceptions to this: full details are given in the Host Organisation Guidelines.
What is required to organise a PIPS?
The student is responsible for handling the planning of their own PIPS project. Once they have an offer from a host organisation, they are expected to put together a 'PIPS Project Description' in collaboration with the organisation. This describes the specific activities they will be undertaking, as well as the expected outcomes and outputs. The Building an Internship Form gives an idea of the content expected in this project description.
If there are any concerns over confidentiality, these should be made clear to the student, who will be expected to describe the project in general terms that do not breach confidentiality.
Once this project description is finalized, the host organisation must digitally sign it. In doing so, they are agreeing to the terms set out in the Host Organisation Guidelines.
As soon as the student knows the dates of their PIPS, they will need to apply to the University for leave to Work Away. They will require a risk assessment from their host organisation in order to do so. In most cases this should just be a standard risk assessment as provided to any new employee, but may need to be a tailored risk assessment if the student will be undertaking specific activities not covered by this.
Is there any administration associated with the end of the PIPS?
The host organisation is expected to return a Feedback Report to the DTP within one month of the end date of the student's PIPS. The student is responsible for providing the host organisation with all of the information required to complete this successfully.
If the host organisation is providing any expenses funding to the student, this should be settled as soon as possible after the end date of the PIPS.
What if the project involves confidential matters?
The student must put together a 'PIPS Project Description' when planning their PIPS, and must also complete a 'Post-PIPS Report' on their PIPS within one month of the end date. Although students are encouraged to write in detail about what they did and achieved, it is perfectly acceptable for students to write about their project in general terms which do not betray any confidential information, for both of these documents. The host organisation may request to see the relevant sections of the student's Post-PIPS Report only, if there are concerns over confidentiality.
There should also be no concerns on the part of the host organisation regarding intellectual property: please see the Host Organisation Guidelines for full details.
What about students with disabilities?
The needs of students with disabilities should be considered during the organisation of internships within institutions. All students funded from the DTP Training Grant are expected to carry out an internship at some point during their PhD.
*Animal Health Trust; Babraham Institute; EMBL-EBI; National Institute of Agricultural Botany; Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute