A team of five PhD students based at King’s College London drawn from diverse disciplines in health, security studies, classics, biophysics and neuroscience joined together to work on a business opportunity project within King’s Internships Insights Project. Prior to this experience they had not met or worked with one another before.
Alfred: My past working experience was in coordinating multi-country research projects on social and public policy in emerging markets; specifically in peace and security my academic area of study. I saw the Business Opportunity project as an opportunity to learn about and venture into future growth areas in technology, start-ups and business – uncharted territory for me. Furthermore, the rapid rise of digitization and remote working during the COVID-19 placed a need for us to develop new working skills especially in virtual environments. As we wind-down on our studies and prepare for future careers, the Business Opportunity project presented a space for us to build this muscle, new skills and prepare for the ‘new normal’. We were all eager to learn and gain critical business acumen whilst working and engaging as a team in a virtual environment.
Rita: My work experience has been entirely devoted to research. My contact with other areas has been quite limited and I think that, as a scientist and more broadly, as a PhD student, there is a lack of interaction with the business environment throughout most of our postgraduate studies. In my perspective, the Business Opportunity project appeared as an opportunity to diminish the gap that exists between academia and the business environment and also as a chance to educate myself regarding business terminology and concepts and acquire different skills that I wouldn’t necessarily learn with my PhD. Applying to this project has also served as an opportunity to broaden my horizons regarding my future career.
What was it like working virtually in a team?
Charlotte: Working as a virtual team was surprisingly easy! We organised an initial meeting immediately after our client briefing on Monday and used the opportunity to get to know one another as well as chat about our plan of action. We scheduled daily 30-minute check-ins which not only kept us on track with the project but allowed us to get to know one another better. Keeping them at the same time each day also helped build routine into the internship.
Especially online, it was crucial to ensure that by the end of the meeting we were all clear on who was responsible for each action point so at the end of each meeting we quickly ran through what everyone’s tasks were and when we were expected to have completed them by. This enabled clear expectations to be set and helped with the accountability of the individuals in the team. We often paired up on the different actions which also helped to build the feel of a collaborative team, especially valuable as we were all from different departments across the university.
Top tip for enhancing team collaboration: A key factor that improved our team’s collaboration was the 360 review at the end of the first week. Everyone provided specific and actionable feedback for one another, identifying each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Having access to such insightful feedback at the end of the first week meant that we could take time over the weekend to reflect, and any collaboration problems could be addressed at the beginning of the second week. This feedback is also applicable beyond the internship, and we can apply the learnings to both our individual research styles and to any other projects where we work in teams.
Our biggest challenge
Fani: As already mentioned, working virtually as a team that didn’t know each other beforehand didn’t pose as big of a challenge as expected initially. I believe everyone in the team was very professional and took the task seriously, so everyone was putting a lot of effort into this project. The biggest challenge was to fit these 25 hours required for the project in our weekdays, as unfortunately PhD obligations can occasionally monopolise the majority of the day. However, I must say that it was quite refreshing to engage with a project in a different field than in our PhDs. This gave us all the motivation to continue striving to produce a high-quality report for our client.
Managing a client
Fani: It was an invaluable experience to meet a real industry client. Our client was as eager as us to participate, and this made the whole experience very constructive. The client had a very specific question that was interested in addressing, how to attract future customers. In addition, he was open to discuss and provide material that would assist us.
The biggest challenge I would say was to filter the information given and understand how to address the big question. And perhaps most importantly, how to prioritise the sub-questions arising under the obvious ask of our client all in a short period of time. As this was a first for everyone in the team, it took some discussion between us to decipher and break down the problem in the most efficient way. I believe that you have to be honest with yourself and the client about what can be achieved in a given time. It is better to show quality even if not 100% of the deliverables are met.
What skills have you gained through this project?
Katie: First and foremost I think we would all agree that the project has definitely given us a very real insight into working with an industry client. Not only were we able to pick up on a lot of business jargon and terminology, we also experienced working on a fast-paced brief, following a project from beginning to end, and delivering a concrete answer to a wide-ranging problem. These are really transferable skills for any career, but in particular, for us this will be hugely helpful if we decide to transition into the industry upon completion of our PhDs.
Collaboration and communication with team members from vastly different disciplines, especially remotely, has also been an invaluable skill we will take away from this project. Often in academia, it is common to be working closely with individuals from your own field, so this has been a real insight into how different skillsets can be combined to reach a common goal.
Alfred: Working virtually has also made us aware of not only the importance of technical business skills but also of social and interpersonal skills that are critical for success in an ever-changing environment.
What advice would you give to students hoping to join an Insights Project?
Katie: Definitely try and prioritise time in advance and dedicate the full suggested 25 hours to this if you can. This is the kind of project where the more you put in, the more you get out, and you can really make the most out of it if you put a little time into asking your client questions and responding to feedback. Our client was especially responsive to questions and spent a lot of time giving us extra background information, which was extremely useful.
Also, try to identify a specific attribute that you want to gain from the experience. For example, this could be leadership skills, innovation, or teamwork. Think about what you could benefit from learning, or an area where your CV is currently lacking. This will really help when it comes to managing your time and allocating workload within your team!
If you’d like to read about the King’s Internships Insights Project, visit our KEATS pages. These 2-week short virtual work opportunities are available for all students at King’s, whether you are an undergraduate or postgraduate.