Advice on ways to build experience including part-time work, internships, competitions and volunteering.
Building experience alongside your research degree will prove useful when it comes to making, and acting on, career decisions. We outline here some of the many ways you can source opportunities to build experience – but it’s important that you are proactive in identifying the areas you’re interested in, and that you check all sources regularly.
On campus opportunities
The University values the contribution research students make to the life of the University and employs PhD students, in particular, in a variety of teaching, research, administrative and support roles. The benefits of these are:
working at the University gives you an insight into what goes on behind the scenes and integrates you further into the campus community
working in a tutoring and demonstrating role gives you experience which will be particularly valuable if you want to pursue an academic career
convenience of working on campus, close to your department
flexibility, during busy times of the year, as University employers are aware of the other demands on PhD students
Tutoring and demonstrating
Tutoring and demonstrating roles are the most common on-campus opportunities available to PhD students. Tutors work with undergraduate students in small groups or practical classes, helping them to deepen their understanding of materials introduced in lectures and to develop as independent learners. Tutor and demonstrator roles are advertised on individual School webpages around September for Semester 1 teaching, and December for Semester 2. Most Schools also highlight possible teaching opportunities during the induction process for new PhD students. Opportunities are for a fixed period, linked to a specific programme of study, and new tutors and demonstrators are well supported with relevant training for their role.
From my own PhD students, I know that their teaching experience has been crucial when applying for lectureship posts. Also, having sat on numerous interview panels, applicants with some teaching experience (in addition to PhD and papers) stand a much better chance of getting their first academic appointment.
Workshops, resources and support for tutors and demonstrators
Working off campus
Do not be afraid to take opportunities in areas unrelated to your research
We advertise hundreds of part-time jobs in and around Edinburgh throughout the year:
Many part-time jobs outside the University, in shops, bars, restaurants, hotels and other areas, are unadvertised. Be proactive – identify potential employers and ask if they need any staff. Recruitment agencies may also be a good source of part-time job vacancies. Read more about finding unadvertised jobs or using recruitment agencies:
Where to look for part-time and vacation work
Most internships are full-time so will require a short period of time away from your research - although there may be opportunities to do some on a part-time basis.
If you receive funding from one of the UK Research Councils then you are eligible to apply for several different internships, some of which are mentioned below. If you are not funded in this way or are interested in an internship with a different type of organisation, then it may be possible to source your own internship and to request an interruption of studies from your PhD. You should discuss this with your PhD supervisor as you will need their approval.
Policy internships: UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) fund policy internships with a wide range of organisations. In the past this has included organisations such as Department for Education, Committee on Climate Change, National Library of Scotland, Food Standards Agency, The Royal Society, Scottish Environment Protection Agency. Internships are open to any PhD student funded by one of the UK Research Councils.
Medical Sciences: Wellcome and MRC funded students can apply to do a three-month policy internship at the The Academy of Medical Sciences, London.
Scottish Graduate Schools: The Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences and the Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities often advertise internships with partners in the public, voluntary or private sector. Check their websites for any current opportunities.
Employ.ed for PhDs: The Careers Service promotes part-time on-campus opportunities with different departments across the university.
You can build experience in communicating your research, building collaborations and networking, and many other areas through opportunities such as competitions, research visits, and delivering (or attending) training.
3MT (3-minute thesis): This is a competition where doctoral researchers compete to deliver the best research presentation in just 3 minutes (and one slide). The University runs events at School, College and University level and the winner will go on to an international competition. It is a great opportunity to hone your communication skills and build your research profile.
U21 network: The University of Edinburgh is a member of the U21 network of international research-intensive universities. Students have access to summer schools, innovation competitions, and more through our membership. Check out their website to see what is available currently.
Physics: The Scottish Universities Physics Alliance allows research students to apply for funding for events or visits that promote knowledge exchange.
Research visits: Some disciplines have small grant schemes which allow you to apply for support to work with other research groups abroad or pursue a placement of your own choosing with an outside company. Ask around your department for possible opportunities in your discipline. It’s also worthwhile checking out travel grants on the University’s Scholarships and Funding pages, as these can assist with short visits or collaborations with another research centre.
Training: The Institute for Academic Development (IAD) offers workshops on many different aspects of doing a research degree and you can apply for funding to support training or events you would like to develop or host in your School.
Volunteering is a way to build experience in areas where part-time work or internships are scarce. Some ideas are listed below.
Students’ Association Volunteer Database: The Students’ Association advertises many different types of volunteering opportunities around Edinburgh.
Widening access: LEAPS is an organisation that aims to encourage and advise students who are traditionally under-represented in higher education. Volunteers work with pupils in schools across South East Scotland, sharing their university experience and encouraging pupils to consider higher education.
Public engagement: There are many opportunities to get involvement in public engagement with research through working with Schools, the local science and book festivals, and more. A good place to find out about opportunities is the IAD public engagement pages for researchers. Your School or Institute may also have a public engagement manager who will advertise relevant opportunities.