Student Research Internships as a Mechanism for Research-led Teaching

Jonathan Hook, Department of Theatre, Film and Television; Glenn Hurst,
Department of Chemistry; Andrew Ferguson, Careers and Placements (Student and
Academic Services), University of York


Each summer many students complete a research internship at the University.
These typically involve working with staff to complete short, focused projects in their research areas. With the introduction of the Laidlaw Scholarship, there are new opportunities to facilitate such projects. Internships can provide a direct route to engage students with research during their learning journey – offering opportunities to develop cutting-edge subject knowledge and skills that may not be easily introduced within the taught curriculum, and insight into the fulfilling career of research. Working with student interns can also be highly beneficial to staff, allowing for novel and adventurous ideas to be piloted without the overhead of applying for external funding.

The effective design and facilitation of research internships is not an easy task. Staff must negotiate challenges including: funding student participation and resources; scoping questions and objectives so that they can lead to genuine research innovation, while remaining attainable within the timeframe and capabilities of the student; and tailoring research supervision to cater for the different needs of undergraduates. In this workshop we will create a forum for staff to share experiences of research internships – including our own comprising 21 projects over the past 3 years, and membership of the Laidlaw funding panel.

We will begin with a presentation of lessons learned from case studies. We will then facilitate participants to learn from each other through the collaborative sketching of brief plans for internships. We will invite previous interns to share their experiences.

Chair’s Report

Workshop Panopto video recording (University of York login required)

Led by predominantly by Jonathan Hook this session engaged with the value to both student and staff of doing an internship and involved small group work devising student research internship projects.

Research internships exist in a variety of forms at the University of York and entail a research project completed by an undergraduate or postgraduate at the University. Internships are often full time between 6-12 weeks long and held in the summer where they are supervised by one or more staff members and relate to research of a current University staff member.

There are three main sources of paid internships at York:

  • Research Summer Schools, which involve York Cross-disciplinary Centre for Systems Analysis and Digital Creativity Labs for 8-10 weeks in the summer;
  • Laidlaw Scholarships, which entail two 5-6 week summer periods;
  • University Research Priming and Impact Accelerator Awards, which can pay an intern for 10 weeks based on 37 hours a week.

There are a many challenges to make an internship work well for both staff and student. For example, the research may need a change of mindset from the staff member in order to get the most from the intern, as many will be used to answering questions rather than making products. Interns need a lot of supervision and investing a lot of time at the start will pay dividends. Providing a second mentor and peer supervision is also crucial as is starting the internships before the start i.e. get them reading papers and thinking of ideas. Notably however there is the issue of asking the intern to start working on the research before they are paid to do so.

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