Offsite Internship Experience at Estee Lauder Companies Inc.
By Hong Zhu, PhD Candidate in Biochemistry
I am a biochemistry PhD student by day and a TEAM (technical entrepreneur and management) master student by night, since most of the business classes takes place in the evening. With my PI’s consent and support, I sought an internship opportunity that could engage my interests in both science and business. Last semester, I had the opportunity to participate in an offsite internship for the Basic Science Research and Advanced Technologies group in Estee Lauder Companies Inc (ELC). I met Kurt Schilling, Senior Vice President of Basic Science Research and Advanced Technologies for ELC in a networking event organized by URBEST. Since I was the first graduate student intern in the group he leads, we had several phone conversations to pin down the details of this internship. We talked about what this internship could entail in order to achieve his group’s aims as well as my aims. Based on our discussion, Kurt proposed a project in which I would be able to put both my science training and business training into practice, which I happily accepted.
Without going into too many details, my internship project was about evaluating a potential business idea through desk research, investigating both technical and business aspects. This arrangement allowed me to stay in Rochester so I could still pursue my PhD research while doing the internship. For my four month offsite internship, I worked an average of 20 hours a week. They understood that I was still a full-time graduate student and that I wouldn’t always be able to put in the same number of hours during an occasional week with a heavy schedule of experiments or exams. I was assigned a mentor, Nick Bizios, to closely work with me and guide me through the project. During a typical week, I would work at night during the weekdays and usually another whole day during the weekends, with working hours recorded by myself. At the end of week, I would summarize my findings from the week into a progress report and email it to Nick for review, who would always respond within an hour or so with feedback. At this time, I would also send my work-time sheet to the finance person for a weekly paycheck. Nick would tell me whether I was spot on target or if I needed to focus on another aspect, usually with some related industry anecdote. From these interactions, I learned about different considerations important for academia and industry.
Initially, I expressed a concern that working off-site might not provide enough interactions with the rest of the people on the team. They understood and arranged two on-site visits for me, both of which turned out to be great experiences. The first visit took place not long after my internship started. Before flying down, I introduced myself to the other group members by exchanging fun facts about myself via email. I visited one of their manufacturing sites and felt for myself the different scales between academia and industry that Nick had told me about. I spent most of the time in their workplace interacting with scientists working in different areas and learned about their technologies and expertise. It was a very informative day; I learned how they work with other departments like marketing or branding, about their work schedule and responsibilities, and also about where I could get the best Chinese food in town! During the second visit, I was able to present my findings to a group of scientists, many of whom I had met during the first visit. The presence of familiar faces helped to keep me from being nervous during the presentation that I gave. At the end of my visit, they expressed that they felt that this was a successful internship. They could now dig in and come up with a detailed strategy in an area they were only scratching at by utilizing the skills, time and focus of a graduate student like me. Therefore, they are now considering the possibility of continuing the graduate student internship program. I was very excited to learn, weeks later after my internship ended, that Kurt’s team is now going forward with a strategy and plan to pursue a collaborative project for developing new technologies based on my research, and that they are contacting the potential partners I identified.
In short, I am very happy that I did this internship. Kurt and his group, especially my mentor Nick, really were very helpful towards my career exploration. For example, after my internship, they introduced me to Chaz Giles, the Global Head of External Innovation in ELC via an informational phone call, as I had expressed the interest of learning more about the field of business development at the beginning of this project. I would encourage any URBEST trainees to consider the option of off-site internships if they are worried that an on-site internship is difficult to fit in their graduate student schedule. I would also encourage our trainees to be outgoing about expressing their end goals so that people know how to help you.
Tracey Baas |