HDR Career Conversations

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Industry Research Internships – a valuable experience for PhD researchers

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Introduction:  The Australian Postgraduate Research internship scheme is driving university- industry collaboration by facilitating internships for PhD students in industry and public organisations.  Yue Ma, a UOW PhD researcher in statistics has recently completed an internship with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).  Thanks Yue for describing your experience in applying for the internship, your experience during the internship and the learning you gained.

Each year the APR-internship program offers internship opportunities to PhD researchers. As a PhD student in statistics, I had an opportunity to take on one of the APR-internship projects which requires a collaborative research project with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). I benefited a lot from this six-month internship project and I would like to share my experience which could be valuable to other researchers considering participating.

 Making the application:  As the internship is focussed on research, the key thing to highlight in my application was my demonstrated research ability. Here are the things I believe were important to my successful application:

  • Conference experience:

In 2016 I had opportunities to attend two big conferences in Goulburn and Dubrovnik. I presented my research work at the conference in Goulburn, at which many researchers from both the University of Wollongong and the Australian Bureau of Statistics attended. I believe that my presentation at the conference helped me to leave a positive impression with the ABS researchers, which helped with my application on the internship project. Therefore, I think it is important for PhD students to take opportunities to present research outcomes to diverse business and government audiences. Also, I believe that actively attending such conferences  reflects willingness to learn from others and share our own research outcomes. That spirit is important when collaborating with others.

  •  Publications:

I believe there is no doubt that publications are important to demonstrate research ability. In my application I also put in all my working papers to demonstrate that I was an active researcher and motivated to take on this internship project.

 Interview:

 The internship project required a short interview with the APR-internship and the ABS staff. I needed to demonstrate my skills, experience and strengths to show that I was the best candidate for the project. Some sample questions were given before the interview. I prepared these questions carefully, kept my answers neat and direct so that interviewers could clearly identify that I was a good fit for the internship role.

 During the internship:

  • Background readings: The first two months of my internship project were all about getting to know the big picture about the project. It required extensive literature review and communication with my supervisor in the ABS. I paid careful attention to listening to my ABS supervisor’s ideas as he has more experience in this area and his ideas were related to practical issues faced by the ABS. For the internship project, multiple solutions had been proposed in the literature. In my case, I tried to understand the latest research work by the ABS, and worked to build on the proposed solution.  I think that any research outcome based on a collaboration of ideas would be appropriate.
  • Time management and efficiency: The internship requires a balanced time allocation on the internship project and my own research work. The key thing is to make sure all deadlines are met and both research project milestones are delivered on time. It is important to plan our time carefully and prioritise the most important work from time to time. Moreover, I think it is a good idea to keep your PhD research work going during the internship because I think it is hard to always keep our mind ‘fresh’ if we work on just one topic relentlessly. Switching our minds between topics may help us to maintain a fresh perspective on the internship project. Also, I recommend spending time on physical exercises often, which always improves efficiency for me. I personally benefited from long-distance running. I could feel that my mind is more active for taking in new things or coming up with new ideas after running. Physical exercises also helped me to maintain a high energy level throughout the internship project.
  • Strengths and weaknesses: I believe we all have different strengths and weaknesses. I focused on my strengths for internship projects. In my case, as a non-English speaker, my weakness is that I could not always express all my ideas freely in meetings. My strength is autonomous self-learning. I focused on paying more attention to listening to my ABS supervisor’s ideas and devoting time to autonomous self-learnings such as literature review and elaborating on various ideas. That helped me to maintain a steady progress on the internship project and communicate my proposed solutions clearly when the time came.

 Summary of learning:

To me, industry research seems to be more direct and purposeful. For the internship project, the priority was getting to know the big picture and coming up an idea to solve the problem. Solutions don’t have to be unique. It is important to keep the solution not only correct, but also practical to implement. For academic research, my experience was that sometimes the topic is based on hypothetical problems and I might need to think about potential impacts of the results I derived.

The internship project helped me to develop a new research interest, in a research area unrelated to my PhD research – I really enjoyed it and would consider research in this area in the future. Also, doing industry research certainly helped me to build a stronger network with the ABS researchers which may generate future opportunities for collaboration. I will certainly seek more collaboration on industry research in the future.

Yue Ma is currently a final year PhD candidate at University of Wollongong. He has been in Australia for more than eight years. He first came in Australia as an international undergraduate student at the University of Sydney in 2009. His PhD research is about using multiplicative noise to protect numeric confidential information of data respondents in a publicly available dataset. My short-term goal is to continue my research on data confidentiality issues in one of the Australian universities.

 

More information on Australian Postgraduate Research internships (APR)

APR have a number of advertised internships available on their website, but are also keen to facilitate internships generated by PhD researchers, their academic mentors and existing or potential industry partners – discuss the option with your supervisor and the next step is to contact Zahra at Innovation and Commercial Research (ICR), UOW zahra_shahbazian@uow.edu.au or phone (02) 4221 5045

What do you see as the benefits of industry internships?

Have you any questions about the APR program?  include your comments and questions below

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