Photo: Oli Walter, Tilted Frame Photography
Photo: Oli Walter, Tilted Frame Photography

The application form for the Laidlaw Undergraduate Internship Programme in Research and Leadership is now open. One of the few summer schemes run by the University, this is a unique programme designed to equip students with the skills to become leaders in their chosen occupations beyond university. Even though you may think that ‘The Bubble’ has already provided you with all the life skills you need – namely being able to dance at a Ceilidh and walk along a tiny pier in the wind – the leadership skills that can be gained through this programme will help you stand out when your four years are over and you have to think about entering the world of work.

Alternatively, if you are interested in pursuing a career in academia, the research aspect of the programme is invaluable, especially when applying for a postgraduate degree. As Vanya Metodieva, a student who carried out her research project last summer pointed out, “If you want to follow the academia pathway, you need to actually try working [in academia] before taking such a decision.”

This year the programme, which is generously sponsored by Lord Laidlaw of Rothiemay, will give 50 lucky students the chance to design, pursue and report on a research question with an academic in their school during the 2016 summer vacation. In addition, these students will complete two bespoke leadership-training weekends facilitated by the Centre for Academic, Professional and Organisational Development (CAPOD) and receive a six-month studying membership of the Institute of Leadership and Management, the UK’s largest management body. If this was not enough, interns who successfully complete the programme will be eligible for consideration for the £1,000 University Scholarship for Research and Leadership, which will be paid during their final year of study.

Proctor Lorna Milne said: “On behalf of the University, I’m enormously grateful to Lord Laidlaw for his generosity in enabling 50 students each year to test and – we hope – fulfil their potential as researchers and young leaders.”

One of the special things about the programme is that it gives students a unique chance to pursue their specific academic interests in a way that University syllabus does not always allow. Indeed, for Courtney Barnard, a recipient who carried out her research with the School of History, the best part of the programme was exactly that. In her project, Ms Barnard focused on the crossover between British imperialism and early Apartheid legislation in the Union of South Africa in the 1920s. She told The Saint: “This was something I had always been interested in, but could never study in class, so it was the perfect opportunity to pursue my interests and develop my skills as a keen historian.”

Another example of a project carried out last summer was Ms Metodieva’s research on the neuroprotective properties of Ptychopetallum Placiodes. Ms Metodieva said: “The idea about the topic came while speaking to my third year supervisor, Dr Gayle Doherty, who is working in the field of neurodegeneration.” The programme gives students the opportunity to carry out their own research in areas that they may encountered briefly in their University studies, but had really captured their imagination. Other past research projects addressed topics as varied as life on Mars, the leadership of opera and the composition of the sea floor.

The programme is also a unique opportunity in terms of the ways in which it challenges each of the interns. It encourages them to develop in areas they find the most challenging. Ms Barnard, for instance, was faced with the challenge of archiving. “I had not had any experience with archives before the programme,” she said. “When studying history at school and university, professors will collect and distribute the primary sources for you, so you don’t have to try find them yourself.” However, sometimes such experiences are the things that you need to improve, especially once you have been at university for a couple of years and have mastered the essential skills needed for your degree. Ms Barnard told The Saint that she left the programme “much more confident in terms of finding and analysing primary sources” which she said is extremely important if one is “considering a future in history as a discipline.”

For Ms Metodieva the challenge she faced was learning how to work as part of a team, something that is rarely a problem when dealing with university modules. She said: “I learned a lot about sharing skills and ideas, research ethics and teamwork in the lab. I was actually very lucky to be part of a great team of inspiring people who are really passionate about what they do.” She added: “Almost surprisingly I also managed to get over my dislike for public speaking.” This was made possible by the weekly team presentations that formed a major part of Ms Metodieva’s project.

One common challenge the interns faced was time management. Many university students dismiss time management as skill, but the programme gave the interns a new appreciation of its value. Ms Metodieva said: “As the project went on I came to realise that time management is an essential skill that I actually needed to master.” Instead of being able to work through a weekly schedule of work, as laid out by university departments, Ms Barnard told The Saint how the programme asked her to set her own schedule, which she found “liberating, but also stressful.” However, by the end, she had learned how to stick to a productive work schedule, which she said had “a definite learning curve.”

In addition to these challenges, the interns also benefit from the leadership element of the internship, which consists of a four-day leadership programme run by CAPOD. This is a good way to get experience in management, especially for those students who are not committee leaders or class representatives. Amongst other things the programme gives the interns is the opportunity to lead a small team and receive feedback on their performance. They also hear from experienced academic leaders on the importance of research methods and ethics. On top of this, this part of the internship gives students the opportunity to discover their own leadership styles.

Ms Barnard said, “The CAPOD team took us through the models and the thinking behind what it means to be a leader, and we spent a lot of time as a group working out what that meant for us specifically. I came away from the ‘leadership weekends’ with a much better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses when working with a team.”

In terms of the logistics, the Programme lasts from eight to 10 weeks, with all of the projects having to be carried out between 30 May and 2 September 2016, meaning that it is an extremely worthwhile way to spend your summer. As part of the application process, students are required to negotiate a research proposal with an academic in their school and submit a research project proposal. All matriculated undergraduate students currently in their penultimate year of study are eligible for the award and can apply via the Scholarships and Funding tab in iSaint until 30 November. As far as funding is concerned, Ms Barnard notes that the programme is “really unique in the generosity of the grant.” Interns for the 2016 round will be supported by a generous stipend of £400 per week up to a maximum of 10 weeks. (More information about the details and conditions of the programme can be found on the University’s website.)

If you are interested in learning more about the experiences of the Laidlaw Undergraduate interns who carried out their research last summer, please visit their blog, which can also be found through the University’s website. There will also be an opportunity to hear the interns showcase their findings at the Poster Presentation on 27 October in Lower College Hall, which will be attended by Lord Laidlaw and is open to all staff and pupils, more details of which are on the University Events page. Any general enquiries about the programme should be sent to: laidlaw@ st-andrews.ac.uk.

Proctor Milne stressed how impressive this year’s researchers were. “The interns this year have really shown us what wonderful results can be achieved through academic rigour, enthusiasm and willingness to learn. Their posters are excellent, and the blog they produced over the summer is full of exciting ideas on both research and leadership,” she said. “What original, independent, brilliant students we have!”

Both students who spoke to The Saint raved about the opportunity. Ms Barnard said: “I really can’t emphasise enough to students how satisfying it was to be responsible for your own research idea and see it through. I would definitely recommend applying for the programme!”

If you are a student who is eligible for the programme and currently have no summer plans, it is definitely worth taking the time out from your deadlines and weekly commitments to think about applying for this year’s programme. It could open your eyes to great new opportunities.

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