Tips for research interns

Once again, we have some interns for the summer. They range from still in high school to various years of undergrad. And, as usual, I’m only sort of looking forward to it. We generally luck out and have a decent experience with most of them. But, it can still be a struggle to find work that is both useful to us and at a level they can actually perform.

However, I do have some tips for people who are taking on one of these positions.

  1. If asked to contact your supervisor by date x, it’s better not to leave it until the last minute, or worse, be late. If it’s an email, try to send it off a day or so in advance.
  2. When contacting a potential supervisor in writing, triple check your email before hitting send. Trust me, you’re going to end up being pre-judged, and not favourably, if your email is full of spelling and/or grammatical errors.
  3. Take your breaks. Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about taking your full hour for lunch. Or taking a morning and/or afternoon break. Just because many of the people in the labs are workaholics and don’t really take them, doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t.
  4. Ask up front about any policies concerning social media and/or phone use in the lab. In my experience (with computer science labs anyway) we’re generally pretty lax about it. If you’re getting your work done, it’s all good. But better to ask and know, then have to deal with the fact that you’ve been using it improperly.
  5. If you don’t understand what you’ve been asked to do, ask questions. It benefits everyone (including you) if you do things correctly the first time.
  6. If you aren’t comfortable, find someone you can approach about the issue. Hopefully you’re able to talk to your supervisor, but if not, another lab mate is a good start.
  7. If there are discussions and/or brainstorming sessions for everyone in the lab, feel free to contribute. In fact, I encourage you to contribute. Often a new viewpoint, especially from someone who hasn’t been involved and entrenched in the decisions up to then is strongly welcomed.

Finally, we know you’re there to learn. And we want you to learn as much as possible. So ask questions about other peoples research, what others are working on, why things are being done a certain way and so on. But, also realize that everyone needs to get stuff done. So try to limit the frequency of these questions. If someone looks deeply involved in what they’re currently working on, wait until they take a break or move on to a different task.


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