There are a number of fellowships and internships out there for PhDs to explore career options.
There are teaching fellowships (e.g., Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship), science policy fellowships (e.g., Research American Science Policy), regulatory and medical writing (e.g., Cato Research Fellows), science writing (e.g., Richard Casement Internship at the Economist) or other types (e.g., White House Fellows, Office of Science Technology Policy Internship Program, etc). I wrote an earlier blog that included a table of different opportunities for PhDs that you can check out.
Some fellowships and internships do not pay and/or are short-term. Most are very competitive. Just because you have a PhD doesn’t mean you look for fellowships and internships that require PhDs. In fact, there are more opportunities if you look at what is available to you, given your interests.
This is hard at first, since you spent so much time getting a PhD–you don’t want to shortchange yourself. However, sometimes a fellowship and internship isn’t just about leaving academia, but to explore what else is out there. This can mean taking some risks–usually time and money.
For some opportunities it is best to apply while you are still in graduate school. I know…how are you going to convince your advisor? The good thing is these opportunities are short-term and some are even possible remotely.
Although it isn’t available anymore, the Scientists and Engineers for America used to have science policy fellows from all over the country working together on projects. Some fellowships might be conveniently located at your graduate program or institute (e.g., Science, Technology, and Public Policy certificate at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor). I’ve heard that some postdoctoral fellows at the NIH are able to participate in clubs (e.g., science policy) offered at the NIH. These aren’t internships or fellowships per se, but offer an opportunity to explore other careers and network. Most fellowships/internships will probably require you to move for a short period of time (three to six months).
Now that I’ve done four fellowships, I have a different perspective than when I first started applying for them. I initially thought that getting a fellowship or internship was like winning the lottery. I’m totally set-I’m getting a big, fresh, cold glass of lemonade on a hot and humid day.
But, you aren’t always set. The fellowship might lead to a position right away, but it’s more likely that you will be handed lemons and you have to find a way to make lemonade. Often times, the lemonade isn’t getting a job at the end of the fellowship-it’s gaining perspective.
What did you learn about yourself? Yes, you have a PhD, but maybe people don’t really care-how do you handle that? Do you like what you are doing (e.g., science writing), office culture, living where the fellowship is located, the organization, the fellowship itself-why and why not? What kinds of people rub you the wrong way and how do you learn to cope and then work with them? What did you gain from the fellowship that you didn’t expect? Sure, you probably already gained some ideas from your graduate program or maybe from before, but the more we learn about ourselves the more productive and happy we can be in what we do.
Sometimes you are handed lemons and making lemonade requires you to make the fellowship into something you want. Organizations vary in why they have fellowships-what’s their goal as an organization? Did your supervisor really need or want fellows? That can impact you as a fellow.
If you find yourself unused or bored then find something to do-talk to other fellows, visit with your team and office mates, invite people to lunch, cold call and email people to meet up for coffee (finding a common interest is always good). Learn what the team needs help with and offer to help. The worst thing is to feel trapped. Getting integrated into a team is always difficult at first, but asking what you can do for them is generally a good way to become a member of the team.