An Internship with Sheffield City Council

An internship is something I would never have thought to do. As a 2nd year PhD student, my focus had very much narrowed to my little niche in my research field. Luckily for me, however, I received an email from the University of Sheffield’s Career service about a scheme called “Sheffield Internships for Postgraduates” or “ShIP”. They were advertising an internship with Sheffield City Council. The subject of the email was “Prestigious paid internships for PhD students”. Admitedlly it may have been the “paid” aspect that made open the email, but it was the person specification that made me apply. The person specification is in the “Can you…?”. I read through them and thought “yes, yes, yes…I can do all these things!”, but most importantly, not only did I think I could do them, but I wanted to do them. Can you……?

  • Have big and innovative ideas
  • Solve problems
  • Analyse data and finances
  • Liaise with a range of professionals
  • working in this area
  • Form an effective team
  • Work confidently and professionally
  • Demonstrate a positive, ‘can do’ attitude

As a team of five PhD students, we spent three months working with Sheffield City Council in the Life Long Learning Skills and Communities Department. We were given our own project exploring unemployment issues in Sheffield, particularly regarding the long term unemployed and individuals with learning disabilities. We were asked to identify potential opportunities for improving the employment services and increasing employment rates for these vulnerable groups.

The project was very broad in its scope given that unemployment is a complex, national challenge. The Lifelong Learning department, however, did an excellent job orientating us in not only the current issues in unemployment and learning disabilities, but also in how the council operates and the projects that they are undertaking. We then engaged with numerous employers and employment specialists throughout the city in order to acquire as many perspectives as possible. For our report we then distilled these perspectives into new opportunities for the council and examples of best practice.

The internship provided the perfect environment to develop flexible thinking and gain invaluable experience of working on projects outside of academia (i.e. in the “real world”). Working on such a complex and novel project was a challenge, however, that is the very reason I wanted to do it and I would have been disappointed if it had been anything else. I wanted to push myself and use the skills I had been almost unknowingly acquiring on my PhD in completely new and exciting ways. Any PhD student, who wishes to explore new ways of using their skills and have a positive Impact whilst doing so, should do an internship.

By Colin Whittle

April 2015