It is growing increasingly more common for graduate students to consider careers outside of academia. But how can you learn more about the world of industry? One great way is through a non-academic internship. This month, we interviewed Becky Hofstein Grady to learn more about her experience with one of these types of internships.

Why were you interested in finding a non-academic internship?

To help get work experience for applying to jobs in industry after graduation, to gain expertise in applied research methods, and to try out possible industries I was interested in exploring.

What organization was your non-academic internship with?

This summer I worked at Sony Interactive Entertainment (i.e. PlayStation) as a User Experience Research intern and two summers ago I did an internship at SurveyMonkey in Survey Science.

What was the biggest takeaway from this internship?

Industry is very different from academia as we all know, but also different industries can be quite different from each other. The type of research I did, the way I presented results, what was expected of me, the methods we used, the pace of work, etc., were all very different at the two places I worked. So the one overarching takeaway is to be open and eager to learn the style of the industry you want to enter rather than making assumptions or coming in with one mindset of how it is or is not like academia.  Come in with a mindset of how you can learn to support the goals of the team/company you’re working for rather than a pre-set idea of what you want to fix or accomplish.

Do you feel this internship has affected your future career path, goals, or expectations?

Yes, definitely.  Both internship experiences will help me meet my goal of getting a job in industry after graduation. I made good connections at both companies for possible careers later, learned a lot of new skills, and found I liked both industries and will consider careers in them. Though I was already leaning this way, these internships solidified my desire to work outside of academia.

Any additional things you'd like to share about your experience?

They were great experiences and I'd recommend trying to get one for anyone considering non-academic careers.  Getting publications out of your time is nice (I did the first time but not the second) but not the main goal - try not to just think about how it helps your graduate career but how it fits with your long-term goals.  Do research ahead of time into turning a CV into a resume, acing an interview, crafting an engaging cover letter, etc., to make sure you're speaking the language of industry and not academia.  I'm really lucky I had supportive advisors who encouraged me in this rather than trying to stop me—it's so important that professors recognize and support the non-academic career path and help their students discover what's best for them. 

Finally, don’t treat industry as a fallback from or easier than the tough academic job market—not only will that come through and make it more difficult to be hired, but it’s also just not true.  Many of these internships and jobs are extremely competitive and have lower acceptance rates than top PhD programs.  This summer, I applied to over 20 places to get one offer, and fortunately, it was a great fit and ended up well for me.  But I see a lot of people who assume industry is easier to get into or won’t be as competitive as a faculty position, and for many specific positions (as opposed to just any job outside of academia) that’s incorrect and may lead to people not putting the time and effort needed into their job applications.  Apply early, tailor your application to each company, and be ready for a lot of rejection, but keep trying so you can find that perfect fit and discover through an internship if that industry is right for you!