A Guide to Chemistry Internships in the UK

by Jessica Clifton

Whether you’re studying for a chemistry degree or you’ve recently graduated, a chemistry internship is a great way to gain practical experience and learn new skills in your preferred industry. 

Some students choose to undertake a chemistry internship during their summer holidays, while others wait until after they’ve graduated. Either way, the valuable on-the-job training you’ll receive will give you a competitive edge when applying for permanent positions. 

As we explain below, chemistry internships also have benefits for employers (being able to identify top candidates before they’re snapped up by another company is certainly a bonus!).

Continue reading to learn more about chemistry internships, the different types of placements available, and the benefits for employers. 

The importance of chemistry internships

Chemistry internships are important because they allow you to gain hands-on experience and develop the practical and social skills you’ll need to succeed in the future. They’re also a fantastic way to build a network of industry contacts. If you impress senior staff, you might even be lucky enough to receive a job offer at the end of your placement.

Medical student using a microscope

Some universities require you to complete a chemistry internship as part of your degree. This allows you to expand your knowledge beyond lectures and laboratory experiments, while still earning course credits. You’ll also get the chance to work with state-of-the-art equipment and learn new techniques that are difficult to demonstrate in a classroom setting.

It’s worth noting that if your internship lasts for less than one year and is a requirement of your degree, you won’t automatically be entitled to receive the national minimum wage. However, many companies do pay a small amount of remuneration, although this will be less than regular employees. Even if an internship is unpaid, the skills, experience, and contacts you’ll gain can be invaluable. 

Bridging the gap between education and industry

Making the transition from a learning-based environment to employment can be difficult. School and university education typically takes a more theoretical approach, which means students often lack the practical skills and experience they need to thrive in the workplace.

An internship, however, can help to bridge the gap between education and industry. As a student or recent graduate, it’s a chance to gain practical hands-on experience that complements your academic knowledge. Many companies also report that students who’ve undertaken an internship are more employable and better prepared for the challenges that come with working in industry.

Gaining practical experience and skills

An internship can help you understand how many of the theoretical chemistry concepts you’ve learned at university apply in the workplace. You’ll get a true insight into what it’s like to work in your preferred sector, which can be invaluable when you’re exploring potential career paths or applying for jobs.

Group of engineer students university looking in machine in laboratoryInternships also give you the chance to hone your existing skills and learn new ones that are relevant to that particular industry. As well as helping you stand out from your fellow graduates, employers say this is essential for reducing the skills gap in the wider chemistry industry.

Key types of chemistry internships available

There are many types of chemistry internships available in the UK. The exact nature of these opportunities varies depending on the industry and the business’s specialist area. Nonetheless, chemistry internships can be classified into a few general categories, some of which are summarised below.

Research and development internships

Chemical manufacturing companies, pharmaceutical firms, and tech businesses all need to invest in research and development (R&D) if they want to stay competitive in the market. An R&D intern works alongside trained professionals to research and develop new chemical formulations specifically related to what that business creates or produces. 

Quality control internships

From detergents to medicines, any chemically-based product must go through rigorous quality control before it’s distributed to the end-user. As part of a quality control internship, you’ll assist in testing randomised batches of products to ensure they meet the required standard. 

Depending on the industry and product, this might involve checking the precision of a formulation, its effectiveness or potency, and its shelf life. You’ll need to have a good grasp of statistical methods for sampling products if you want to succeed in this area.

Manufacturing and production internships

As a manufacturing and production intern, you’ll typically work on the production floor or the assembly line. You’ll be taught how to perform very specific tasks within your production area. During your placement, you might even learn how to operate complex machinery and mix chemical ingredients.

Preparing for your internship

If your degree requires you to complete an internship, your university will usually have an arrangement with companies that provide such placements. Alternatively, you can search for internship opportunities on your own. 

Before you begin, you’ll need to narrow down the type of internship you’re interested in. It should be in line with your specialisation and skills. For example, if your focus is organic chemistry, consider looking for internship opportunities in the petroleum industry. Your university professor may also be able to offer tips and guidance on how to find an internship that best suits your needs.

Once you’ve identified potential placements, research the company thoroughly and familiarise yourself with its mission and goals. The more you know about the business and the role, the better prepared you’ll be. And don’t forget to check whether they have an employee-friendly culture – this is crucial if you want to enjoy your time with the company and get the most from your internship.

How to find a chemistry internship (3 tips)

If your university has ongoing partnerships with chemical and chemistry-related companies, it should be relatively easy to find a chemistry internship. However, if it doesn’t have these kinds of connections, finding a chemistry internship can be more difficult. Depending on where you’re based, you might even need to search in other cities or towns to find a suitable placement.

A Level student studying a chemistry lab

If you’re looking for a chemistry internship, these three tips can help.

1. Consult classified ads

Start by scouring printed and online job ads for chemistry internship opportunities. LinkedIn is a particularly useful resource, with many companies using the platform to advertise upcoming internships. The search facility also makes it easy to find and narrow down potential placements.

Here are some top cities in the UK where you are likely to find chemistry internship opportunities:

  • Birmingham
  • Bolton
  • Cambridge
  • Grangemouth
  • Heysham
  • Newcastle upon Tyne
  • Oxford
  • Swindon

2. Ask for referrals

If you’re looking for a top-quality internship, try asking for referrals from your fellow students or anyone who has already completed one. Your university placements office may also be able to recommend a suitable internship to suit your skills and interests. Finding the right internship can be just as competitive as looking for a regular job, so it’s worth getting as much help as possible. 

3. Apply directly to companies

There are plenty of internships available but many of the top placements are offered by large, well-established companies in the pharmaceutical, chemical manufacturing, and biotechnology sectors. 

You could try approaching these types of companies directly and ask whether you can be considered for future internships. Some examples of businesses that offer high-quality internship programmes include Cancer Research UK, Pfizer, GSK, and AstraZeneca.

Benefits for employers in offering chemistry internships

Chemistry internships don’t just benefit students and recent graduates; they have advantages for businesses too. Some of the ways internships can benefit employers include:

  • Access new talent – by forging bonds with the intern community, companies can identify the best students and graduates. This makes it easier for them to hire the most capable and qualified employees in the future.  
  • Raise brand awareness – offering chemistry internships can be a good promotional strategy. It creates brand awareness among universities and the student community, which can help employers attract more candidates. 
  • Increase productivity – some simpler and routine tasks can be delegated to interns, thereby reducing the workload for regular employees. This means experienced staff will have more time to focus on other areas of the business, which translates into greater productivity and efficiency.
  • Build public relations hiring interns from the local area can help employers build good public relations with the community. This kind of positive publicity fosters credibility, enhances brand awareness, and facilitates strategic business growth. 

Summary

Chemistry internships are a great way for students or graduates to gain practical experience and develop new skills in their chosen area. They also give employers the opportunity to identify top talent and raise brand awareness. 

There are various types of chemistry internships available but some of the generic categories include R&D, quality control, and manufacturing and production. If you’re looking for a chemistry internship, try speaking to your university placements office. Alternatively, approach companies directly or search for advertised placements online.

To find out more about chemistry education and careers in chemistry, visit the resources section of our website.

Disclaimer

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