BioBuzz by Workforce Genetics

An Investment Beyond the Summer – Why it Pays to Host Summer Interns

By Eimear Holton
March 10, 2023

Having your iced coffee delivered to you every morning might seem like the only reason to consider hiring a summer intern, but there are many real advantages for employees, the company, and the student. Here we explore why your investment into hiring, training and mentoring, and providing a meaningful experience for an intern is not just beneficial for the student, but can pay dividends for your organization and science long after the summer has ended.

Reasons to offer summer internships at your company

1) Training an enthusiastic junior on how to perform PCR may seem like the last thing you want to do on a sunny afternoon in June, but think about the extra time you could save in July and August now that some of your easy or repetitive tasks are taken care of. For summer interns, mastering foundational techniques like PCR adds to their scientific toolkit, increases their core understanding of the concepts through real-world application, and adds an essential to their resume—an edge they may need when applying for their first job or dream Ph.D. program.

2) If you yourself took part in a summer program, look back to what made your own experiences positive or negative. Most of us remember the people we interacted with rather than the day-to-day tasks we did. Great mentors usually make great managers. Patience, empathy, and emotional intelligence are leadership skills that we don’t get to demonstrate until we’re actually in a position of managing people. Recognizing your ability for people management and having those skills recognized by others is nearly impossible until you’re actually doing it. Being a great mentor to a summer intern could be your chance to prove to your manager and your colleagues that you’re the best candidate for the next team lead position that opens up.

3) Inspire the next generation of scientists, especially those of whom would not traditionally have considered becoming a scientist. In many scientific circles, it’s still prevalent for researchers to only see academia as a scientific career. Hiring an intern at a busy biotech that’s conducting groundbreaking science may be the experience your intern remembers when they finished their postdoc and are looking for a job. An inspired intern, already aligned with the culture of the organization, may come back once they’ve graduated—trained in many of the essential techniques and aligned with the company’s mission.

(SOURCE: Cyanide and Happiness)

“Our summer internships at MilliporeSigma are a great way for college students to gain insight into the biotechnology industry! It was important for our company to offer both laboratory and non-laboratory roles, as we have many departments such as virology, viral clearance, bioinformatics, project management, quality, and employee engagement – just to name a few!” said Jennifer Chiang, Head of People Strategy Execution, US at MilliporeSigma. “Spending 10 weeks at our site is a fantastic way to get a true view of what the life sciences and biotechnology industry is like, and it helps college students confirm what potential career paths they want to pursue.”

4) Finally, it can be fun by injecting some new energy into the work environment during a time of year when you’d rather be on a beach than at the bench. In the process of showing your intern how to culture cells, have them teach you something new in return. A computer science major would be useful in many settings across the life science industry, like writing a script that automates an easy but time-consuming task. Does your company’s social media presence need a boost? Take advantage of having a de facto social media expert in-house – this could be a great time to learn how to create the company’s first TikTok. Ask for feedback on your science communication skills by practicing a poster presentation for your next conference from a non-expert.

How to make the most of it (for them and for you)

1) Creating a meaningful internship for a high schooler versus a master’s student looks very different. A master’s student is looking for tangible experience to add directly to their resume. Setting an intern up for success requires creative thought and planning. Having a number of projects in mind will help match the right intern. Dig out the backburner projects that could make a big difference.

2) Nurture a diverse and equitable scientific workforce. Gender-diverse teams are more innovative and produce higher impact work. You might feel pressure, especially in smaller companies or organizations, to hire an employee’s child, but try to avoid nepotism. Ensure to advertise broadly and hire from a variety of schools. Always remain open minded and curious, the people who may not fit exactly to the job description could be the people to make the most impactful contribution by coming up with the freshest and most unique ideas.

“All of our interns are given the opportunity to define and complete a project throughout the summer. Last summer, the interns created old school science fair boards and presented to employees for a fun-spirited competition. Some sample projects included the efficiency of DNA extractions, quality assurance training improvements, an electronic lab notebook lifecycle tracker, and lysis heating optimization,” said Chiang.

3) The trickiest part, compensation. Depending on your organization, it may not always be possible to pay a summer intern but there are ways to make it a fairer exchange. A great internship is fun, engaging, and enables the intern to progress their career—and much more valuable than minimum wage and a negative experience. Free coffee or lunch each day, a transit pass to the office or lab, or even an authorship for their work are more valuable ways to incentivize a few weeks of quality work.