7 Ideal Projects for Summer Interns That Help Your Lab and Your Staff
So you've decided to hire summer interns for your water lab. Now the question is, what exactly are you going to do with them once they arrive?
The ideal projects for lab interns reduce your team's workload while giving interns the opportunity to develop valuable skills. Interns want meaningful experiences, and while every internship will include less-than-glamorous duties, it's important to provide stimulating projects as well.
When lab managers hire the right summer interns, they're more likely to gain a valuable full-time employee following the program. And when your lab offers a rave-worthy experience, you're also likely to attract even more applicants down the line, thanks to word of mouth from satisfied interns and their respective career services departments.
With that in mind, here are seven ways you can utilize interns for a mutually beneficial experience, as well as what resources and support you'll need to provide along the way.
1. Inventory Management
One basic project you can have summer interns work on is inventory management. It's a task suitable for both intro-level and advanced students. Give your intern a tour of how your inventory management system works, then help them get started on projects such as:
- Tracking and reordering supplies in the laboratory information management system (LIMS).
- Conducting an inventory audit to reconcile LIMS records with what's actually in your cabinets.
- Taking on a special project to improve inventory management, such as creating a tracking system.
2. Sample Collection and Prep
Sample prep is another great project for students completing water quality testing internships. Your interns can help with tasks like:
- Preparing and labeling bottles.
- Collecting and sorting samples for analysis.
- Preparing reagents.
- Washing and sterilizing glassware.
Once you've shown your intern the ropes, sample collection and prep should be a relatively easy task to hand off with minimal supervision.
3. Routine Testing
Interns can help with routine sample testing for a variety of parameters. In the beginning, you'll need to walk them through testing protocols, so it might even make sense to assign the intern to work alongside a specific technician for a period of time.
Depending on the expertise level of the student, by the end of the summer, they may be able to perform routine testing and assays with less supervision. Not only will this give your intern a sense of accomplishment, but it can also help lighten the load at a time when many employees tend to take vacations.
4. Data Management
Student interns can contribute to a variety of data management responsibilities, including:
- Recording water analysis results.
- Entering data into the LIMS.
- Compiling data for presentation to the team.
Your team can also help your intern learn advanced spreadsheet skills, such as pivot tables and creating graphs, as well as potentially train them in specialized statistical software.
5. Quality Control and Calibration
Lab interns can help with quality control and calibration projects to help determine the validity of your lab's sampling and analytical procedures. You might have interns:
- Run replicates to test the precision of lab measurements.
- Prepare samples to send for external checks at a quality control lab.
- Calibrate meters using standard protocols.
6. Independent Research
Forbes recommends giving interns ownership over at least one long-term project, as well as providing opportunities to participate in meaningful team projects. When interns are invested in an independent project and feel like they're contributing as a valued part of the team, they're more likely to come back full-time.
Here are some independent projects that summer interns can take on:
- Researching a specific area of interest and presenting their results to the team.
- Conducting special studies within larger projects, using data to make recommendations based on those studies.
- Preparing a presentation for the general public on environmental health and water issues.
7. Technician Support
One way an intern can quickly learn what it's like to work in a water lab, while also helping reduce your staff's workload, is to assist one or more of your busiest employees. Your team will appreciate the extra hand, plus, the people that get more done are often the most capable, making them ideal instructors for interns.
Pick team members who are both friendly and passionate about their role. Ask them to help identify tasks to transition to the intern. They can also help supervise the student at the bench and provide them encouragement and feedback. Just be sure to not overload any one employee with intern management.
The projects you choose can impact whether interns will want to work for you in the future, so be sure to balance routine support tasks with projects relevant to their interests. Treat your interns as employees, and there's a much better chance they'll want to be one someday.