What I have learned from a four-week long internship and things to consider before you apply

I am a second-year psychology undergraduate and in this blog post I want to tell you about my experience with a four weeklong internship. Since you may be studying a different subject, I will not go into detail about what I did during the internship but will focus on broader things to consider such as where to look, how to apply and what I have learned.

During my first year at university, I heard a lot about the importance of “relevant work experience” to boost your CV, to gain practical knowledge and to have better chances when applying for further studies or a job. One great way of getting this experience can be volunteering but, in my case, I could not find a project or opportunity that would give me the insight I was looking for. At that point, I was set on becoming a clinical psychologist so the most obvious thing to try and get was an internship in a psychiatric hospital. This turned out to be very difficult since it is uncommon for hospitals to accept undergraduate interns in the UK. I am sure there are ways to get around this, but my next best option was to see if I could get an internship in Germany which is where I grew up. In Germany, the situation is different because psychology undergraduates are required to do an internship as part of their degree. Although this is great, it also means that there are more applicants and that providers try to accept those who are required to do internship first and then look at students like me who just apply voluntarily. Luckily for me, term times are different in the UK which meant that I could start earlier in Summer when the German students were still in class. One thing I found difficult that is probably not specific to Germany is that internships are not advertised in any way. Instead, you send an email with your CV and cover letter to the company or in my case hospital you are interested in and hope for a reply. Although this can be daunting it can also mean that there are fewer applicants at any one time and that your application can really stand out.

The most important thing I learned during my internship was a little unexpected since I realised that I don’t want to become a clinical psychologist or therapist after all. I saw this coming  when I got interested in other career paths during my second year at university but since I had already applied and got the place, I decided to give the internship a shot anyway. Even though I decided against this career I still gained great experience and learned lots of things. On one hand it’s always good practise to write applications, do interviews and go out of your comfort zone to a new workplace. On the other hand, I also learned some concrete skills during the internship that I can still use in different jobs. My next step now is to really think about these skills and highlight them in my next application rather than only listing the internship in my CV.

The internship was also a great way to learn how to navigate a new workplace and to meet “colleagues” in a formal setting. I was really happy when I got accepted for the internship but in the months leading up to it, I became quite nervous. Suddenly it seemed like I did not now anything about clinical psychology at all and I was worried that I would just tag along without the means of really helping anyone. As it turned out, I was worried for no reason. The first day was a little nerve wracking but luckily everyone was very nice, and I soon worked out what I could do. My tip here would be to ask your supervisor or other colleagues for a schedule of when things are happening and not to be afraid of asking what you can help with. I found that people seemed to forget about me at times, especially on stressful days. I either used that time to read useful books or articles or just asked someone if I could come along to their meetings. The experience I gained in this internship was very valuable during my placement with the NDSN. Although it took place online, it was good that I was already used to introducing myself and asking about different things I could do or help with. Most of all, it was great to get into a placement that was more closely related to what I want to do as a career.

Finally, I want to leave you with some more hints and tips that I found or would have found useful before applying for the internship. The first one is to apply as early as possible. I know, we hear this a lot but it’s really true especially for positions that are not advertised. I applied in the summer after my first year and started the internship the following summer, right after my second year finished. This way I had lots of time to prepare, especially since some things came up that I did not think about. For instance, I had to get a full police record and update my vaccinations since I was going to work in a hospital and around children. Of course, that took time and if I had applied later, I might not have been accepted just because I did not have the required vaccinations. Secondly (and sadly) internships are often unpaid, so you have to find a way to cover your living costs during that time. I was able to move in with family. Another way might be to look for a shared flat that you can move in for a short time because someone has moved out for the summer. This also leads to my last tip, which is to consider all options you have available. It is gutting to realize that the easiest way, like doing an internship in the town where you live, might not work but there might be great opportunities elsewhere. Maybe you also have friends and family somewhere else in the UK or even in another country and could stay with them for the duration of the internship. It does not have to be four weeks or even longer to be “worth it”. If it’s difficult to get the internship in the first place, any amount of time will be a good experience!