Monday, May 11, 2015

Who benefits when Singaporean students do industrial placements?

Also in this week's C&EN, an interesting article by Grace Chua on Singaporean industrial internships that last longer than the typical 2-3 months that U.S. students tend to get:
...Since the 1980s, Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has mandated industrial internship, or industrial attachment, for certain degree offerings. These schemes require a 22-week industry internship for fourth-year chemistry and biological chemistry students and a 20-week stint for third- or fourth-year chemical engineering students. An internship is required for graduation, but students can opt for a research internship instead. 
Compared with the usual two- to three-month summer internships in the U.S. (see page 41), an extended attachment gives students sufficient time to pick up skills and make meaningful contributions to a company’s work, explains NTU founding president Tao Soon Cham....
I was interested to see that the students were paid during these internships:
...Each institution, whether a university or a polytechnic, makes its own arrangements with employers for placing students. Industrial placements can be done at firms such as Shell Eastern Petroleum, ExxonMobil, GSK, and Novartis, which pay students about $350 to $950 a month to cover basic living and transportation costs. Students gain practical industry experience, and some return to the same firms as employees after they graduate...
As someone who had an industrial postdoctoral fellowship, I had a great experience where I had quite a bit of freedom to explore what I wanted to explore. In other words, it was an academic experience aimed at industrial application.

But in the case of extended stays in industrial placement, I would be interested to know what these multinational companies are doing with these students. Are they acting as regular staff members ("Sport, today you're working on Project X."), or is there actually a systematic curriculum? Are their pay rates comparable with regular staff? If not, cui bono? 


  1. We have currently a young biologist at our company in Florida, working in a 6-month internship that is a part of his studies in France. He is very good, and for 6-month is it worthwhile for the company and I hope for him as well (rather than taking someone just for few weeks over the summer). I don't know the details of the arrangement but everyone here seems happy.

  2. In the UK, Chemistry students have the opportunity to do a 12 month placement in industry during their 4th (penultimate) year in a combined B.S./M.S. degree program. We weren't limited to UK company sites either: the USA, Switzerland and Singapore were also destinations.

    Everyone in the program was paid a decent salary - I think mine was approx $24K (certainly enough to live securely in a big city). Didn't have to pay full university tuition or take out student loans that year, either! I worked on the same project as the rest of the med chem team, albeit closely supervised and certainly not working on the most synthetically-difficult targets. It was a full-time professional job.

    From the academic angle, all placement students from my university had to complete a handful of online exercises based upon last year's chemistry coursework as a refresher. We also were visited twice by an "academic supervisor" from our university. We submitted a literature survey and report (company-approved) that were assessed as part of our university grade for that year.

    It will vary from company to company (and indeed from supervisor to supervisor) how much freedom the students will get during an extended placement. But I think that it benefits both the student and the employer.

  3. I had chemistry interns from France that were present in the company for 1 year. Very good at the bench and smart. This gave them plenty of time to learn and get excellent exposure to medchem in an industrial setting. They were happy and most of them went to graduate school later on.

  4. This Singapore placement is basically for six months (with two weeks vacation) and it's a really good idea. Singapore is full of excellent opportunities for industrial placement. The salary is a bit low for that place though. Raise it to 1500-2000 and then the student can survive in the city, without it being considered a 'real' industrial salary and comparable to a grad stipend.

  5. Perhaps the better question is who does not benefit from industrial placements.

    It seems like the full time employees who work in the lab are the ones who are hurt the most. It depresses wages, makes for fewer positions, and ties up instrument time with inexperienced folks not knowing what they are doing. Get a newbie on a LCMS or HPLC and they can cost thousands of dollars worth of damage and opportunity cost with just one poorly made sample. Worst of all, it gives schools credibility to recruit more students despite the shortage of well paying STEM positions.

  6. A local university requires that all of their students do 2-3 six month internships in the course of their program. Twice a year we see a crop of candidates for interviews, make our selections, then get them into the lab a few months later. Six months is enough time that we can train them properly, we can give them a meaningful project that will generate some data that is relatively important to us, and they generally quickly get to the point where they are running the project by themselves with oversight and suggestion from the senior scientists. They don't just run the same binding or functional assay, or make 2^n analogs from the same scaffold, the entire time. We actually give them projects that they can learn from and grow with, spend the time to mentor them, and they *generally* soak it all up and leave better scientists than they came in.We benefit, they benefit, so we keep going back.

  7. Seems like a bit of a bright spot that the sciences in general outside of the US haven't sunk to the depths of US medical training (i.e. nurses, physical therapists, doctors) where interns pay full tuition and don't get paid for their work. Sadly, I know some US schools are moving towards the medical model even for science and engineering.