Summer internship: Researching disability services
This summer Beth Witham, a second year BSc Psychology student, has spent time on a research internship under the supervision of Dr Gayle Brewer, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology
Dr Brewer conducts several research projects looking at disability and higher education. As part of her summer internship, Beth is designing and creating her own study, focusing on the experiences of disabled students and the way in which they access and experience disability services.
We spoke to Beth and Dr Brewer about the summer internship, conducting research at the Department of Psychology and the benefits of an internship.
Why did you want to take part in the summer internship?
Beth: In your second year, you’re settled in more than first year, but you haven’t got the dissertation of third year. I thought, ‘right, this is my year to get a load of work experience in’.
I’ve always had an inkling that I’d like to do some kind of research-based position when I graduate, or post-graduate study.
How is the summer internship preparing you for your future employability?
Beth: The main sort of thing I have been looking at for postgraduate is that there’s a Masters at the university – Research Methods and Statistics Masters.
On the Methods application, they really want some kind of research position. Being able to interview someone and learning to do it now - it is not only going to firm the application, but if you can put on your LinkedIn that you’ve got (hopefully by the time I graduate), three publications under my belt and those sort of skills, you can apply it to lots [of jobs] like HR, or qualitative research, Government policy, stuff like that. It’s really useful.
What are your day-to-day tasks?
Beth: The first week I spent doing a big literature review and the first four days I probably read about four papers. The last couple of days I planned and wrote an introduction.
In the weeks following that, I was simultaneously writing method sections and also trying to recruit people via Facebook groups that I’m part of as an undergraduate, for students. I recruited the people who wanted to participate, then I did a Zoom interview, transcribed it and then I’ve just started to go through the theme analysis – going through the transcript to highlight the quotes that were most useful.
A lot of it is quite similar to what you would do in first and second year, as you learn to do a lot of academic writing, a little bit of the ethics stuff and then you’re doing it all in six weeks – so it hasn’t felt too far out from what the department does, which is quite nice.
What has it been like working with one another?
Gayle: I think Beth is an exceptional student. She is really motivated, and really hard working and it is really important to emphasise that this internship is led by her. We’ve worked together in the initial internship, but over the summer, this project has been led by her. She has been taking a lead on the writing.
We have identified a journal that we plan to submit to hopefully before the start of the next academic year. I’d like Beth to be the lead author on that paper, because it really does represent her work.
She has been great to work with and it is fantastic to know that it [the research] will be taken forward as well with her project in the future.
Beth: On a Friday I’ll probably send Gayle the work that I’ve done, just to look through at the themes, to say ‘this is what I’ve found, what do you think?’. Then on a Monday we’ll probably talk about it.
I’ve had a couple of things where maybe I’ve had a difficult interview that addressed some difficult topics and I just wanted to check I’d handled it in the right way. Gayle was just on the other end of the phone and was like, ‘it’s ok, you’ve done everything right.’
It’s quite reassuring – especially for my dissertation, that all it is, is just having a conversation with people.
What advice would you give to students who want to take part in a summer internship?
Beth: I’d say to anyone who wants to do it, do it. Don’t think you’re not smart enough. If you are interested in a particular thing, make sure you have a bit of volunteering to back that up.
Gayle: I really encourage students to get involved. It’s a great way to see what kinds of research is being conducted in the department, as well as to develop skills.