One of the most striking parts of this internship was the opportunity interns had to conduct a project of their interest. Initially, I was not too keen on the idea to propose a project as I did not think I had enough knowledge around the Permian-Triassic mass extinction but when I found out we would have to propose a project idea I went to my favourite YouTube channel on palaeontology TREY The Explainer to learn more about the subject.
I soon found a video on the most prominent findings in paleontology from 2018. Among the many discoveries that the video talked about, one was about a huge Dicynodont that was found in Poland. The most interesting part was the background information the video gave on Dicynodonts. Anomodonts (dicynodonts and relatives) were dominant herbivores in the Late Permian and Middle Triassic, with some 100 species, and they passed through a major bottleneck across the Permian-Triassic boundary, when abundance and diversity plummeted. Nevertheless, they became the most dominant land animal in the Early Triassic making up around 90% of the terrestrial vertebrates.
I brought this up to my supervisor, Professor Benton, and we began discussing ideas surrounding this topic on the day of my interview. These discussions continued via email after I was accepted for the internship and it was settled that I would focus on looking at the feeding mechanisms of Anomodonts before and after the mass extinction.
Going into my first week of the internship I was excited to get started. One of the reasons I enjoy palaeontology is that, to me, the palaeontologist is akin to a detective- someone who has to look for clues to reconstruct the past. The only difference is that the palaeontologist has to reconstruct something much further back in time. Hence, it could be said that the palaeontologists working on the P-T mass extinction are detectives working on the biggest murder mystery known to man. And now for a few months, I was going to be among those detectives!
As I live in London, I had to organise my accommodation in Bristol. This was difficult for two reasons – I had to do this during my summer exams and my internship was due to begin 3 weeks after my last exam finished. However, the process was made much easier with the weekly stipend from the internship hence I didn’t have to worry about costs too much.
Initially, I sent Professor Benton an email asking if the university could provide me accommodation. He sent emails around to university staff and his post-graduate students asking if they could help. Unfortunately, none of the students had any spare rooms and the university were taking a long time to get back to me. Therefore I decided to look around for accommodation myself using websites such as Gumtree and Spare room. Although the prices were cheap, I couldn’t find anything that would satisfy my need for privacy so I decided to look at an airbnb and fortunately found just the place I was looking for.
Surprisingly, the university got back to me with a cheaper single spare room in one of the halls but alas, it was too late – I had already booked my airbnb room. I would lose a lot of money if I cancelled my airbnb booking so I had to stick with it. In hindsight, living far away from the Life sciences Building meant that I would get a good dose of walking per day just from going to and from my internship.
On the other hand, organising the dates of my internship were not difficult. The department was very flexible and in the end we settled on splitting the internship into two parts. The first part would be 5 weeks from the middle of June to the end of July and then the second part would be a few weeks in September. So I would still be able to have my holiday!
Tips for planning
Try and start with accommodation as early as you can.
Email your supervisor to see if they can help you find accommodation within the university or from their students.
Websites you could use – Gumtree, Spareroom, Airbnb
Negotiate your stipend with accommodation in mind – staff members agree that the university should provide you with accommodation so they will be keen to help in anyway they can.
As I live and study in London I had to plan my journey to Bristol but that was made easy because I was told that I would be reimbursed for any expenses concerning transport and even lunch on the day. My biggest concern was the panel interview. I was expecting a lot of problem-solving questions – similar to the interviews for university applications.
However, the whole day was much more easy going. Initially, my flatmate and I were welcomed by a cheerful Professor Benton whose amicableness helped put me at ease. After introducing ourselves, we were given a tour of the life sciences building by some post-graduate students. Next, we had our meeting with our potential supervisors, mine being Professor Benton, and finally we had our panel interviews. I was pleasantly surprised as it was not intense as I thought it would be. The questions were quite basic and very open ended which allowed me to expand on my answers and ideas.
The interview flew by and not long after my flatmate and I were on our way back to London to focus on our summer exams. We both felt that the interview had gone well and fortunately the next day I received an email by Professor Benton with an offer for an internship placement.
Tips for the interview
Reread your application and find any areas that you could expand on in the interview.
Try to think of project ideas or interesting topics that the lab you’re applying for could investigate.
Be honest – if you don’t know something just say so or if your answer might sound weird that’s fine as such answers are more likely to stand out.
Don’t be afraid to share your opinion – independent thinking is the only way a field can move forward so interviewers will be impressed if you can think for yourself rather than regurgitating a paper or an article.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions – whether it’s to the interview panel or your supervisor its always good to ask questions since it shows you have thought about the subject.
Possible questions that could be asked – Why this project and this lab particular? Why paleontology? What do you hope to achieve with this internship? Do you have any career ideas and how would this internship help you with this?
Starting my second year at university, I was aware that I would need to look for an internship but by nature, I have a wide range of interests, so I wasn’t sure where to start.
However, during term one I took a module on Vertebrate and Palaeontology which I enjoyed very much hence I decided to search for an internship in the field and I found an opportunity at Bristol university. Moreover, the internship was focused for students like me – 2nd year BAME students! So my flatmate and I decided to apply.
Although I had many months to create and refine my application, I, as typical of many students, started my application a week before the deadline during which I was also juggling revision for my summer exams. Fortunately, I was able to send my application 1 minute before the deadline and a week later my flatmate and I received an email back saying that we were invited to an interview.
Despite the struggle of creating the application, it was a good process to go through which will help me in the future when applying for jobs/internship/research positions.
Tips for the (or any) application
Start as early as you can – I sent my application in a rush so didn’t have time to read through it properly. After submitting, I read my application again and instantly found some grammatical errors!
Be authentic – I tried to bring across my motivations for wanting to go into science. This is one of the many ways your application will stand out.
Read around the subject – it’s important you convey your interest in the subject. The best way to do that is to show off extra reading (ideally, this would be related with the lab you’re applying for) e.g. recent papers that caught your eye. This YouTube channel is pretty good in recapping the biggest developments in palaeontology every year.
Make sure the application is focused – read the application page for the internship to make sure the application is tailored to the internship e.g. the page talks about how the internship will help in applications for Master/PhD positions so it would be a good idea to mention what kind of Masters degrees you are thinking about or would like to do.
As I was growing up, the BBC documentaries I watched had a very profound role in nurturing my interest in Science. Among those documentaries, the Walking with Dinosaurs series was probably the earliest and most influential exposure I had to the prehistoric world. But I never thought 15 years later I would be supervised by one of the palaeontologists that helped advise the makers of that documentary- Professor Mike Benton.
Yet this summer, after completing my second year of my undergraduate Zoology degree at UCL, I was fortunate enough to be offered an internship by Professor Benton as part of the Bristol Summer Diversity Internship program – aiming to increase BME representation in palaeontology.
As I went through my internship, I tried to blog my experiences and give some tips so that future applicants will have a better idea of what the internship entails.
I would recommend people to look at the categories section so they can quickly access the information they want. I’ve written a bit about my family and ethnicity which you can find under the background category. Under the ‘Project’ category are posts about the project I undertook and the ups and downs I felt along the way. If the reader is just looking for advice on applications and getting ready for the internship then look under the ‘Tips’ category. I’ve tried naming each post in such a way so that people don’t have to read all my posts to get what they want. E.g. if readers want to learn about my experiences outside of the project then they might be interested in posts titled ‘Benton Lunch Group’ or ‘Dinosaur memes’.
Either way, whatever you are looking for with this blog I hope you find it a useful and an informative resource. If you would like to ask specific questions about the internship which are not answered in the blog you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.