Skills and experience for undergraduate job seekers

Getting a job straight out of University is not easy and candidates with work experience and relevant training will always have a competitive edge in the application process. Professor Kate Kemsley, Head of Core Science Resources at Quadram Institute Biosciences has supported the Oxford University Summer Internship programme for many years, allowing interns to develop valuable skills that will equip them for their future professional scientific careers while also supporting scientific research projects at the Institute.

The programme provides young scientists with access to hundreds of internship opportunities at numerous organisations including commercial companies, non-profit organisations and research institutions such as Quadram Institute Bioscience (QIB) during the summer break. It commonly includes:

  • Full-time work for 2-12 weeks during the summer vacation
  • A defined project, that creates real value for the host organisation and a valuable learning experience for the student
  • Interaction with an assigned supervisor or mentor within the host organisation
  • A stipend, or some assistance with travel or accommodation
  • Payment at the national minimal wage or above, if the internship is in the UK and in the for-profit sector

Taking part in the programme offers interns an opportunity to develop career goals, experience a new location and culture, develop confidence and obtain professional skills. The hosts benefit from enthusiastic staff that can assist them with short term projects and problem-solving exercises.

“My internship at QIB involved proteomic analysis of tomatoes, learning many useful biological lab techniques and how to use new software to analyse our results. I was able to do independent research and developed a new method. I very much enjoyed my internship and learnt a lot of useful skills. It has helped to confirm that I want to remain in science.” Karen Heathcote, QIB intern in 2017.

Previous QIB interns have gone on to participate in postgraduate study and have found employment in commercial and research-based roles.

Prof. Kemsley’s latest intern was Mr Alex Jackson. He attended QIB during the 2019 summer break between years two and three of a four-year course in Chemistry at Oxford University. He worked on perfecting the analytical method now used to detect the presence of cheaper, lower quality Robusta coffee beans in samples of supposedly pure Arabica beans. He achieved this using a benchtop NMR low-field spectrometer under the supervision of Mrs Yvonne Gunning, an experienced QIB research scientist in Prof. Kemsley’s group.

“Scientific progress is slower than you would expect. It’s more stepwise and long term thinking than brute force, bucket science. My internship has given me more confidence, has helped me improve my soft skills and to understand the reality of the working environment. It will also give me a competitive advantage over other graduates when I start to look for work. I want to try different things as I am not sure what career path I will follow and I feel really lucky to have had this opportunity as they are few and far between.” Mr Alex Jackson, QIB intern in 2019.

University graduates are under increasing scrutiny from potential employers to demonstrate suitable work experience. Prof. Kemsley and her group at QIB are equipping a cohort of the next generation of scientists with valuable skills and experience in addition to giving them an insight into working environments. This helps them make informed choices about future study and career options.

“Providing these placements at QIB has enabled student participants to strengthen their CVs, obtain valuable experience in a working environment and explore future career options. The contribution from Professor Kemsley makes a real difference to our students.” Rachel Ruscombe-King, Deputy Head of the Internship Office, University of Oxford Careers Service.

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