I just read on Paul Goldberg’s blog his request for opinions about accepting summer interns, which had attracted 42 comments since it was posted in February. I tried to put my twopence worth into the discussion, but the Blogger website decided to reject me out of hand, and deleted what I had written.

Never mind, I can say it here instead.

Paul was expressing his worry that “there’s some kind of economic principle at work here, that says that in a market that’s flooded with bad eggs, the good eggs cannot be sold”. The comments fell into two types: those who agreed with him (many of them people who had also had such requests), and those who were horrified at his attitude (many of them prospective interns).

I have had many such letters in the past. I have always replied, I hope politely, explaining that we do not accept summer interns (I believe that is the institutional policy) and wishing the sender well in their future career. During the summer, I am away for chunks of time at conferences, occasionally even on holiday, and I do not believe that I could properly supervise an intern over the summer. (It is clear from the comments on Paul’s blog that students in this situation regard professors as being lazy; it is not hard to see why this misunderstanding arises.) In any case, if I have a suitable problem, chances are I also have a Masters student working on it. I feel more loyalty to my Masters students than I do to an applicant out of the blue. Sorry, but that is the way it is.

However, events have just taken a more sinister turn. (I speak only of what is happening here, but I would confidently expect that similar things are going on elsewhere.) Our administration have started putting pressure on us to take interns. I was specifically targeted to take one this summer. I simply said “No”. I am close enough to retirement that I can get away with doing that. But I fear that some of my younger colleagues may not feel sufficiently secure to take such a strong line. They are doubly vulnerable because they need their summer research time to pursue their own research.

Once, not so long ago, we were allowed to submit papers published by our students to the Research Assessment. That is probably no longer the case (though nobody knows for sure since the rules have not been published yet).

Furthermore, it seems very likely that the administration will charge the department for the expense of hosting these interns.

So it is a lose-lose situation.

If you are considering emailing me to ask me to take you on as a summer intern, I hope this helps explain the reply that you will receive from me.


About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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