University is an incredible time in anyone’s life. You grow and learn so rapidly and after your studies, you may turn around and blink, “Do I know what I want to do now?”. This period of your life influences you in many ways and if you are lucky, you may have discovered your dream career. However, this education is not gained through university alone, but through real-world experience and the exposure to different working environments.

Why an internship?

I studied a BSc. in Biomedical, Health and Life Sciences which I loved. Yet, if anyone asked me what I wanted to “do” afterwards, I was at a loss to provide a concrete answer. A university degree can teach you so much, but it generally does not provide the gut-feeling of what a job that you love can provide. The UCD academic timetable provides undergraduate students with a summer break of over three months. This gap in students’ timetables is the perfect opportunity to travel, work and complete internships. After two years of university, I decided to think more seriously about gaining experience that would prove informative in deciding my next steps after my undergraduate degree. Would medical research be for me? Will I scratch the itch to pursue a career in medicine? Will I go down the commercial life sciences route?

As I was studying a medical science degree, I decided to begin contacting leading researchers to inquire about student placements in their labs. It really is as simple as sending an email and reaching out. Students can gain this experience abroad also, again by the simple action of researching what may interest you and contacting the right people. After many emails and an interview, I gained a position in a prostate cancer research group working on translational cancer epigenetics in UCD.

Biomedical Research Laboratory 

Lessons learned

My experiences in the Dublin lab and from working in a lab group in Sweden for my thesis taught me so much. I learned a great deal about the everyday life of a researcher and about the industry that surrounds it. I listened to lunchtime discussions about the conflict between academia versus industry. I educated myself about the struggles and joys of such work from principle investigators, post-doctoral researchers and PhD students. I celebrated when a member of my lab published a paper in a prestigious journal. I also realised that this type of job was not for me – a lesson that I will be forever grateful for.

Round 2

Following this discovery, I needed insight into how the world of life sciences functioned in the commercial world and so my next internship took me to Berlin. Having completed my thesis in Sweden, I acquired the hunger to live abroad. During the final year in my BSc. I became increasingly aware of how avoiding the lab meant a step into a business-orientated sphere in many roles, a field I had virtually no experience in.

Initially, I had no clue how to approach finding such a role – life science consulting seemed to be a common job prospect for many, however if I was to live abroad I needed to speak the language of the country in question. And so, the search began. I updated and actually began using my dormant LinkedIn account, I put email notifications on Glassdoor Jobs and I creeped on many people’s profiles trying to hunt down companies that dealt with healthcare and medical science.

Liam Neeson sums up the internship/job hunt rather well

After almost nine weeks of searching, emailing, interviewing via Skype and the occasional urge to just book a one-way ticket for a holiday to God knows where, I secured a twelve-week position with a digital health start-up company in Berlin with a focus on patient-reported outcome measurements. Berlin has a growing digital start-up sector powered by many internationals, so it was the perfect opportunity to live in a new city, meet new people and gain the much-needed exposure to the corporate healthcare sector.

At the Brandenburg Gate during my time in Berlin

Using your summers to learn about what type of career you may want in the future is an invaluable, constructive exercise. I had to discover how to accept many “no’s” before receiving a “yes”, and to keep on applying for position despite initially wanting to give up. For me my internships, taught me what did not inspire me, yet they steered me towards what did. All in all, it all begins with a smidgen of foresight, confusion and the courage to send that first email.

For more information and guidance see UCD Careers