Interview with two former interns
It is well known that most people believe scientists are strange and eccentric - just think of Woody Allen's movie "Whatever Works". Indeed, most people have no idea of what a scientist actually does all day. Even students have difficulty imagining what doctoral candidates and professors do apart from teaching and supervising them.
Therefore, in 2009, the Institute for Strategy, Technology and Organization (ISTO) initiated a three-month research internship program for national and international students to give highly motivated students the opportunity to experience day-to-day life working in academia.
I met with two of the interns, Pascal Kober (21) from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU) and Clare Long (23) from the University of York, for an interview in which they shared their experiences with us.
ISTO: Why did you apply for the research internship?
CL: I was preparing for my master's degree dissertation and thought this would be an opportunity to gain more research skills. I expected to work with people from diverse cultural and educational backgrounds and see how they would tackle research problems from different aspects. The other important reason is that Germany is the place I used to study for three years during high school and I always wanted to return for a couple of months.
PK: For me, the main reason to apply was my interest in research. I wanted to gain insight into everyday work at a university institute. It was also important that the issues matched my personal interests.
ISTO: What did a typical working day look like?
CL: During the internship, our normal routine was eight hours per day and five days per week. However, what I found really cool is that the working hours were quite flexible and we were not required to stick to a strict schedule. Tasks were clearly assigned to us by the research assistants; we were able to freely manage our time according to our own working habits as long as the work was done on time. Colleagues were always helpful and caring for each other not only on problems we had at work, but also on everyday life issues. My project team had meetings regularly to discuss the problems in the project and the whole internship group also met periodically to present the progress of each project.
PK: I started at 9:00 am and spent the whole day in the copying room until 8:00 pm [laughs]. Just kidding! The work was widely varied and there wasn't any rigid regulation. I fully agree with Clare on that point.
ISTO: Did you have contact with the other interns or did everyone work on their own?
PK: The whole atmosphere was excellent. That was a big advantage for us all. We had lots of contact with each other after work as well, and we still do. We got along really well and by helping each other we made progress faster, too.
CL: I agree. Interaction with other interns was fairly frequent. We had been able to work in the same office space and sat at the tables next to each other. Although most of the other interns worked on different projects from mine, they were more than happy to offer their help. Every time I asked for suggestions and advice, the responses received from the other interns were always constructive. Often, interns gather together when off work, too: for lunch, bowling or going to the movies.
ISTO: How was the collaboration with the research assistants?
PK: Excellent! There were no barriers at all. I think the after-work activities helped to improve the relationship between the research assistants and us as well. All in all, I think we had a very pleasant atmosphere.
CL: Interaction with the research assistants at the ISTO was the most important part of this internship experience. My mentor guided me step by step throughout the internship; the other research assistant in our project team, Jörg, was always helpful when I was stuck with my tasks. At the initial stage of the internship, the two research assistants met up with the interns every morning to give introduction and assign relatively simple tasks to help us getting familiar with the project. As we gained more insight and became clearer with our goals, we were given more flexibility in what we do, and reported back to the mentors. Frequently, we "troubled" the research assistants with questions, and they always helped with patience.
ISTO: What did you learn during your internship?
PK: Actually a lot. On the one hand there are the software skills which has already helped me a lot with term papers and even with my application for masters courses in England – they notice things like that. On the other hand abstract topics like econometrics gained a completely new significance. You start seeing things with different eyes when you are able to use the methods you have learned at university. All in all I have a much deeper understanding for most topics at university than before.
CL: Working in such a diverse environment, my communication skills have improved a great deal. And I am so glad that ICE provided me this opportunity to do research under the supervision of this many experienced research assistants, which helped me a lot in learning new research skills, such as writing basic STATA commands. As my project was on gaming industry, I now have had a fairly good idea of what gaming industry is like and how different parts within the industry are connected. This valuable experience definitely helped me with doing my master dissertation as well.
ISTO: Could you imagine working in academia one day?
PK: Yes, I do, absolutely. Of course there is still a long way to go and things can change, but it’s definitely a possible goal.
CL: Going into academia is definitely an option for my career, that was also one of the reasons why I applied for the internship.
ISTO: Did the internship influence your decision?
PK: The internship reinforced my earlier decision. Actually, it was more or less a test to see whether I could really identify with academic work whether I would enjoy it. So the internship has proved that I did make the right choice.
CL: It definitely did. To be honest, before the internship, I did think doing research as a job would be boring and was not quite sure what working in academia would be like. I applied with questions and curiosity and this experience encouraged me that a job in academia suits my interests.
[The interview was conducted by Thorsten Grohsjean]