Virtual internships: an international student's experience

Here at UK University Services we regularly place international students with UK-based startup companies as part of our drive to help international students and graduates gain valuable work experience in the UK. This summer was a particular challenge for international students who are keen to experience working with a UK company during their time in the UK as many had their original plans cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

We helped these students by placing them in 'student consulting teams' to work on strategic challenges identified by start ups across a range of industries. One such student was Aakash Pal an Indian student from Hyderabad who is currently studying for his MBA at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Aakash led a team made up of students from India, China and the UK to work on a strategic project with Rocking Tech a music-focused web development startup based in the NatWest Accelerator, Milton Keynes.

Read Aakash's write up about his experience below and get in touch if you would like to find out more about our Postgraduate Study Work Programme.

How did Covid-19 affect placement and internship opportunities for an international student?

With the view of gaining international work experience, a lot of students enrol in UK universities as the UK offers a wide range of courses and options to increase their skill set.

While COVID-19 was on the rise, there were a lot of international students getting ready to start their placement year and internship which was part of their course in the academic year. Although a lucky few were able to continue their work online as planned, most of the internship and placement offers were cancelled due to lockdown restrictions and health safety concerns. The pupil that must let go of the offers had to choose an alternative to pursue the work-based learning path. After putting all their hard work in trying to secure a job by going through the applications stage to interviews to only get their placements/internships cancelled due to COVID -19 left a lot of students dejected.

However, a lot of companies were offering virtual internships as an alternative to gain work experience in the summer for all the students who were left at home. Although virtual internships are not the same as traditional internships, same goes for skills that you expect to gain. Virtual internship tends to offer the necessary skills needed to succeed in remote work.

So, what is a virtual internship?

A quick google search would tell you that virtual internships are work experience programmes focused on gaining experience all the while working remotely and not present at the company.

This raises the question of if this even helps students to gain any new skills or if it can be a learning experience at all.

Keeping those in mind, it is true that whether you are completing a traditional internship or a virtual internship, the company would provide you with a mentor/supervisor to whom you would be reporting. The work might look daunting when you are starting, but the supervisors/mentors push you to learn and understand the working culture, they also make sure that you feel inclusive of the team.

Virtual internship forces the student to stay in constant touch with the team and supervisors as there is no one looking over your shoulder and you need to make sure you are doing your part. Virtual internships offer flexibility and freedom to work on your terms it allows students to cultivate a crucial skill such as time management and self-motivation. Managing your schedule is a fine art and it shows employers you are self-disciplined and have necessary IT skills.

A misconception about internships is that you will be allowed to perform trivial tasks but that is not the case. These virtual internships are designed in a way that they are solving real-world problems for the company and are entrusted with important tasks. They tend to have a clear objective and demand a solution to a certain kind of problem the company is facing. They also provide the necessary tools for the job and examples of work for comparison.

How was the experience of summer student consultancy project through UK University Services?

The consultancy project has allowed me to use the theories learnt in Management consultancy module in my MBA at the University of Central Lancashire and apply them to the project. Being the Team leader has allowed me to understand the Stakeholder Management in-depth and improved my leading capabilities by allowing me to employ the things I learned from the learning module about leading people in the university. It has been a great experience in getting to know new teammates and to know that the work we have accomplished makes a real difference in a company’s strategy.

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Aakash Pal
Aakash is currently pursuing an MBA at the University of Central Lancashire after graduating with a Bachelors in Computer Science and Engineering.
Published on 10 August 2020
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