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Meganpsi

I go a summer internship offer but I'm afraid that my PhD boss won't let me do it

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 I got an offer for a summer internship in industry but I'm afraid my PI won't let me do it.

My PI  has never been supportive of the internship idea since my 1st year (I'm in my 4th year), no matter how well I perform, and how hard I try to convince him. Last year, he told another company that made me a summer internship offer that I couldn't do it because of my scholarship, which is false. The truth was that I was the only person in the lab and he needed someone to do research. According to my committee I can graduate any time of Fall 2016  depending on how fast I can find a job and write my thesis. This year I asked him if I could apply to another internship (I didn't tell him I applied) and he said no, and that an internship could delay my graduation. So, I'm pretty sure that if I tell him that I have an offer for this internship he will get upset and say no, even if I offer to delay my graduation. Although I have more than enough to put on my thesis (many publications too) he wants me to keep doing research just to get publications for him.

Our lab has very little grant money and only a 1st year student works in the lab besides me. But I have a scholarship that pays for my tuition, half of my health insurance, and about 60% of my monthly stipend. So he only pays a little bit compared with what he has to pay to other students/postdocs. He rarely goes to the lab, and during the summer he tends to disappear for 1-2 months for vacation. Last year I talked with the graduate program director about this internship issue with my PI (and many other issues). He was supportive with other issues, but not with the internship idea.The graduate program director also thinks that an internship is a waste of time, so I know I can't get support from him. The graduate program director told me that I should do a postdoc instead, after graduating, and that a postdoc would be my "internship".

What should I do? Should I do the internship without telling him? and hope he won't find out? Or should I tell him? Does anyone have experiences with this type of controlling PI?

Thanks in advance!

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Personally, I never asked my PI for permission to do a summer internship or any of the part-time jobs I did in graduate school. Whether or not I told him depended on how much time the internship was going to take and whether it would interfere with my work or responsiveness. The summer internships I did I usually let him know, because those were often 40 hours a week and I'm pretty sure he would've noticed me not being around for stuff. Some of the part-time jobs I never mention because they were far less demanding time-wise and I just felt that he didn't really need to know.

Don't go seeking approval from other academics; they are almost universally going to tell you that the summer internship is a waste of time. They're both right and wrong; it depends on the context. A summer internship won't help you get an academic job (unless you get a publication out of it), and most of them are answering you from the standpoint of advising you to be an academic. But a summer internship can be really key if you have even the remotest of interests of going into industry. And no, postdocs don't count as an internship (although some industry jobs can value them).

Does your advisor have control over your funding or something? Do you think he will threaten to cut off your funding if you do the internship? If you don't think your advisor would cut you off, or you are willing to finish out your program with your scholarship funding only, then I wouldn't ask permission - I would just tell. "By the way, I just wanted to let you know that I will be doing X internship at Y company from May through August this year. I've already accepted their offer. Here are my plans for how I am going to get other required work done."

If you think your advisor is going to be a jackhole about your funding and you aren't willing or able to give up the additional 40% of your income next year, I'd sit down and have a serious conversation with him, that involves you pushing back a little bit more than you may have been until now. Your job is not to convince him of the utility of the internship or that it won't delay your graduation, because 1) you won't be able to convince him of the first one and 2) the second one is irrelevant. (So what if your internship delays your graduation by a couple months? The experience and potential job it can net you will be worth it.) The goal in this conversation is to get him to agree not to yank your funding if you do it, so that should be your primary focus. You are going into this meeting NOT TO ASK HIM PERMISSION (because you are an adult and you can take a damn internship if you want to) but to find out how this would affect your funding. I still think that you should go in with the assumption that you are going to do the internship, and a realistic plan outlined for how you will juggle the internship and some research work for him over the summer - because let's face it, you're not going to be able to drop PhD work completely. Present that first, but more gently than you would in the above scenario (maybe like "I have been offered X internship with Y company from May through August of this year. I'd like to accept their offer, as I think it would be an excellent opportunity for me [because reasons]. Here are my plans for how I am going to get our research work done this summer." Then wait to see what he says to that. Note that you aren't asking anything; you are stating facts and seeing how he responds.

When I would ask is if he's kind of a passive-aggressive jackhole, and he says no you can't do it, do realize - again - he can't actually prevent you from doing an internship. What he can do is introduce consequences for you if you choose to do the internship, which may include yanking your funding (or, if he's extremely petty, becoming obnoxious and delaying your graduation because he's mad. This could be in the form of taking forever to read your chapters, giving you petty little things to fix, making you go through onerous rounds of revisions, etc.). I would go from indirect to direct for the former - start out more indirect ("I hear that you're not in favor of me taking this internship. What if I told you I really wanted to do the internship this summer? It's important to me.")  and if he still dances around it, go to more direct ("Are you saying that you might take away my funding if I decide to do this internship? I just want to be really clear about my options here.")

The latter you just have to assess based on your knowledge of him.

Also, last thing. You have to recognize that this conversation and pushing back may change your relationship with your advisor in ways you don't want. Some adviors take any interest in a practical internship or part-time consulting opportunity to mean "They're running away to industry, egads!" And some advisors do not take students who they perceive as wanting to go to industry seriously. It sounds like your advisor is displaying hints of that. It's not unheard of for advisors to suddenly become less responsive to students they think are going to leave academia - less helpful, less likely to refer you to things or network on your behalf, less warm, etc. Not all advisors are like this, of course, but yours is showing some potential signs. So before you do any of this, weigh the potential impact it'll have on your working relationship for the next year or so. If you only have a year left in the program and no interest in academia that may be okay for you, but if you've got more time, or your advisor is petty, or you're unsure about whether you want academia or not, that may change your calculations here.

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