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How to convince advisor to allow me to do a summer internship?


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I am 3rd year Ph.D Candidate working in natural sciences, I have been making progress (3 first author papers and one book chapter) and I am writing other two first author papers. I also have a strong fellowship which covers almost everything, except about 1/4-1/5  part of the stipend.


I would like to do an internship in industry this summer but my adviser does not want me to. He thinks it is a waste of time, and  I will delay my graduation. That I will not gain anything through this internships, he is coming from industry and he says he never pay attention to internships when hiring. To me it sounds like he only wants to take advantage of me, and neglect me that opportunity which will only be 2-2.5 months. I try to tell him I can write a review or papers or my thesis during that time or even come during the weekends but there is no way to change his mind. I am the only member of my lab (short story: full tenured professor run out of money and reduced his group from 12 to 1).


What can I do? I really want to do  an internship to gain some insight of how is industry like, and if I will like it. Also I think it can help me to get some contacts and/or recommendation letters for the future.


Thanks in advance

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I don't know much about this type of situation but two things strike me:


1. People who ARE familiar with your situation may be able to help more if they know specifically a: what your job plans are after graduation, and b: what your area of focus actually is.

2. Aren't you going to get letters of rec from current faculty and such? 

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  • 2 weeks later...

So...your advisor is wrong about industry more generally: they do, of course, pay attention to internships when hiring.  Now, I can't speak to the specific industry that you are interested in, but I do know that in general non-academic jobs and employers do like internship experience.  Everybody likes to see that you have at least some experience in what it is you want to do for them, to help them make money.


Now, here's the thing.  Is your advisor supporting you with funding?  If the answer is no, you definitely don't have to ask his permission.  I did a non-academic internship during one summer of graduate school and I simply told my advisor what I had planned and that I also planned to continue in my research, and he didn't get the opportunity to say "no."  But...I had an external fellowship.


If your advisor is funding you (which it sounds like), then this can be handled more delicately, but I still don't think you need to ask for his permission.  Your only concern is whether he will stop supporting you after you take the internship.  Frankly, his opinions don't matter - you don't feel like it is a waste of time, and even if it does delay your graduation you either don't care or think it's a worthwhile trade-off.  So the question is, if you go to him and say "I appreciate your input, and I've definitely considered it while deciding.  I've decided that I am going to take this internship this summer.  I will keep up with my summer work in XYZ ways" (XYZ being ways you have already thought about and planned), will he threaten to pull your funding? If he comes at you with the same negative views again, then I would say something like "I really do appreciate your concerns, Prof X, but this is something I really want to do.  The project seems interesting, and I do want to test the waters to see if industry could be for more after my PhD.  However, I understand the need to keep pushing forward in my work in the lab, and that's why I plan to do XYZ."  Keep the focus on how you will stay engaged in your PhD program and your lab work, but make the decision sound like a done deal, and don't make it sound like you're asking.  From that point, see what he says.  His choices are 1) to support you, whether enthusiastically or reluctantly, or 2) decide to impose some sort of ridiculous consequences on you, in which case you have to decide whether you still want to take the internship.


This gets trickier if you need a letter of recommendation; I ended up only applying to internships that didn't require letters, as I didn't want to have this conversation with my advisor before I even applied.  If you think he'll refuse to write you a letter, then just seek a letter from another professor who will support you.

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In addition to juilletmercredi's advice, I think you should talk to the Faculty of Graduate Studies / School of Graduate Studies or some equivalent body to check in on school-wide policies on this issue. For example, at my school, this counts as a leave of absence and you must get permission from your advisor in order to do this. It doesn't matter what your source of funding is, because the school does not allow you to remain registered as a student and also work outside of the school without prior permission. However, as juilletmercredi pointed out, the amount of support you can expect to get from your advisor will depend on the source of your funding. In addition, at my school at least, I know the Graduate Office will be on your side and they will help you convince your advisor that this opportunity is a good thing for you and that your advisor should agree to this. Alternatively, if you cannot find this support from the Graduate Office, you can also consider talking to other professors in your department (especially if they are on your thesis committee). 


Ultimately, I think it is very hard for a graduate student to go against their advisor's wishes and have everything end well. Sometimes it is necessary though for your own good. However, I would strongly advise you to find allies, preferably other professors, whenever you need to go against a professor, especially your own advisor. 

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