ESRC Digital Good Network

Research internships

We are building a research community focused on what a good digital society should look like and how we get there. As part of this, we seek to build up the skills of a diverse range of early career researchers who will go on to comprise the next generation of digital society researchers. 

Our research internships scheme provides PhD students with a funded opportunity to experience working with interdisciplinary teams in various sectors and industries.

An internship is an ideal opportunity for a PhD student who is making good progress with their doctoral research project and is beginning to think about next steps after graduation.

Applications for the 2023 internships scheme have now closed.

The scheme

Applicants are responsible for finding their own host organisation, either by:

  1. Approaching one of our partner organisations – BBC R&D, Zinc, and CAST
  2. Arranging an internship with another appropriate institution.

We will award each intern a stipend of £6000 which is intended to cover living costs for a three-month internship period.  We recommend an internship period of three months and will award the same amount of money to all interns.

We will fund up to five internships in this call (the 2023/24 call). We will fund up to 20 internships over the lifetime of the network.

What we are looking for

We will support internship opportunities that will give post-graduate research (PGR) students experience of working with interdisciplinary teams in various sectors and industries. Internships may be on academic research projects or research to support industry-based technology development activity. 

We particularly encourage applications from PGRs from underrepresented groups. 

You should be able to explain why the activities you plan to engage in during your internship will support your own development, as well as how they map onto the Digital Good Network’s aims and/or societal challenges

You are encouraged to work with your proposed host organisation at an early stage in the development of your application. These organisations should be able to provide a named contact who will support you for the duration of your internship, as well as provide other relevant resources (eg desk space or research-related costs) related to your activity.

As part of their activities, Digital Good Network Interns are expected to complete a final output – such as a brief report or a technology prototype – which will be determined with your host organisation. We will also ask that you attend one of our research showcases and provide a blog post or vlog on your experience. Your profile will be added to our website and we will seek to involve you in network activities.

Internship hosts

Applicants are responsible for finding their own host organisation. There are two routes to do this. You can either approach one of our partner organisations (below), or you can approach another appropriate organisation yourself. 

Host organisations should:

  • be active in helping you to develop your application, particularly where you describe your planned activities during the internship – involving them at an early stage in the internship funding call is important for this reason
  • provide you with support to achieve your activities over the course of the internship – depending on your activities, this could include access to data and/or provision of desk space. You should consider the support you might need at an early stage so you can discuss this with your organisation
  • provide a named person who will be the point of contact for the duration of your internship
  • provide a letter of support for the application that explains why the proposed activities would be valuable for their organisation, and describes any support that will be provided by the organisation over the course of the internship
  • provide you with regular opportunities to discuss your progress in relation to your activities over the course of your internship – we encourage internship hosts to look at our list of best practice resources for hosting interns
  • provide a progress report (100-200 words) during your internship to enable the release of the second instalment of your stipend

Our host organisations

Zinc

Building research-rich, mission-focused start-ups that respond to big societal challenges.

Zinc builds research-rich, mission-focused start-ups that respond to big societal challenges. Its start-ups create new, scalable, tech-enabled products and services. In this round, we will support one Digital Good Network x Zinc innovation research internship, who will work with a Zinc start-up. 

The successful applicant will apply through the Digital Good Network Research Internship Scheme to join the 2024 cohort of Zinc’s innovation interns, an interdisciplinary group of PhD students who get first-hand experience of mission-led, early-stage innovation. The Digital Good Network x Zinc intern will apply their research skills and knowledge in work with start-up founders, and to learn what it takes to build and run a commercial start-up with a big social mission. The intern will spend time working closely with founders in a Zinc portfolio company.

As well as being able to explain their work’s relationship to the Digital Good Network societal challenges, applicants must have a strong interest in one of Zinc’s four broad missions to: improve mental health; tackle challenges relating to the future of work and improving financial resilience; support healthy ageing; and reduce environmental harms. 

If you feel you fit this opportunity, email research@zinc.vc by 31 July 2023, attaching a brief expression of interest summarising:

  1. why you’re interested in working with Zinc and/or any of its ventures
  2. which of Zinc’s challenge areas you’re interested in in particular
  3. which of the Digital Good Network’s societal challenges you are most interested in
  4. your research skill set

This internship will run for three months in 2024 (dates to be confirmed).

CAST

Working to accelerate the agency, presence and influence of social impact organisations in the technologies that affect us all.

CAST is a charity that works to accelerate the agency, presence and influence of social impact organisations in the technologies that affect us all. CAST works with social impact organisations to create community and sector-owned products, services and strategies.

With a small core multi-disciplinary team and a large network of partners, CAST builds the best teams to support charities in their use of digital and design. This has included work for the National Lottery Community Fund designing and delivering £5 million worth of funding and support as part of their COVID-19 response, and starting Catalyst which is now supporting thousands of charities, via a network of 500 digital teams, with the tools and resources being accessed hundreds of thousands of times. As a digital-first, networked-based charity CAST seeks its greatest impact, however, in the footnotes of other civil society organisations' work - supporting, training and empowering them to make the best use of digital, data and design. 

CAST is looking to connect with applicants for a Digital Good Internship who are looking to partner with, or engage with civil society organisations - particularly understanding how civil society organisations identify, adopt and shape technologies; how we might sense the implications of digital on different communities across the UK; how we best understand the contribution and impact of digital used by civil society organisations, or to explore how civil society organisations can better understand and use digital in the context of their own objectives.

If you are interested in exploring this opportunity with CAST, you should learn more about their activities (via CAST and Catalyst). If you feel there is potential overlap with your own interests, email  DigitalGood@wearecast.org.uk by 31 July 2023, attaching an expression of interest summarising: 

  1. why you're interested in working with CAST
  2. your particular areas of interest, noting that CAST has a large range of third sector connections in specific areas of practice (such as food poverty, sport, disability) but are also interested in hearing from people who have a particular methodological interest (eg technology evaluation)
  3. which of the Digital Good Network’s societal challenges you are most interested in
  4. your research skill set

BBC Research and Development

Researching and developing media and communication technologies in the public interest for the BBC and the UK.

BBC Research & Development is the department in the BBC tasked with researching and developing media and communication technologies in the public interest for the BBC and the UK. The department is composed of interdisciplinary teams working on a wide variety of research areas, innovation with data and emerging technologies. BBC R&D has a longstanding internship programme for MA and PhD researchers where they can undertake research activities aligned with their research and expertise that speak to key areas of BBC R&D work. 

In this round, the Digital Good Network will support one Digital Good Network x BBC R&D Research Internship. The intern will work with the BBC lead for Responsible Innovation and Society to identify and shape a suitable project and placement that aligns the applicant’s interests and expertise with a key area of work in BBC R&D.

The successful applicant will have the opportunity to spend time working closely with a BBC R&D team to undertake and apply research in an industry context and learn about research, development, and innovation work in one of the world’s largest public service media organisations. 

We particularly encourage applicants who are interested in helping the BBC think deeply about: designing for digital or civic participation; new approaches to demonstrating the social or cultural impact of technology and innovation; digital equity and inclusion; personalisation and the public interest; responsible data and AI practices; applying new and innovative social science methodologies or processes within research and development practices.

If you are interested in exploring this opportunity with BBC R&D, you should first take a look at their website to learn more about their areas of focus. If you feel there is potential overlap with your own interests, please get in touch with info@digitalgood.net by 31 July 2023, with a expression of interest summarising:

  1. why you're interested in working with BBC R&D
  2. which areas of BBC R&D activity you're particularly interested in
  3. which of the digital good network societal challenges you are most interested in
  4. what your research skill set is

You do not necessarily need to have a research background in the organisation's specific area, and we encourage applicants to explore areas of interest and focus that are different from their own PhD student if they wish to.

Applicants should look to make early contact to establish where they might fit these host organisations, so the hosts can provide a letter of support and help identify potential activity areas that applicants can refer to in their application.

How to apply

Applications for the 2023 internships scheme have now closed.

This is a two-stage application process.

Stage 1

Approach your chosen host organisation for initial discussions about your proposed internship. We recommend this is done as early as possible, to give plenty of time to develop your application with your host organisation.

If you are interested in working with Zinc, CAST or BBC R&D, please contact them to express your interest by 31 July 2023. Expressions of interest received after this date may not be considered.

Stage 2

Submit an application form and host statement of support to applications@digitalgood.net by 17:00 on Friday 29 September 2023.

If you have any queries or require these forms in an alternative format please contact info@digitalgood.net

Research internships application form

Research internships host statement of support

Overview of the application process

Internship Application Process V3

Eligibility

  • Internships should run for three months during the 2024 calendar year.
  • Internship periods should last for a minimum of 10 weeks, and have no maximum length (but the stipend will be capped at £6000 per internship). 
  • For the 2023 call, you must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for ESRC funding and undertaking a PhD. We hope to open up the scheme to applicants based at international institutions in future years.
  • Your PhD does not need to be UKRI-funded for you to be eligible to apply. You may be self-funding your PhD, or receive support for your PhD from a different source.
  • Your proposed internship activities should be distinct from your PhD research. For example, you should not collect data for your PhD, or use the time to work on your PhD. However, we do encourage you to use skills learnt from your PhD research.
  • You should have completed your first year of PhD study, including successful completion of your confirmation review, upgrade, or equivalent by the time of your application submission.
  • You should confirm with your institution that you are eligible to take a leave of absence from your doctoral programme for the duration of the internship and postpone the submission deadline of your PhD by the length of your internship, so that it does not affect your ability to meet your PhD submission deadline. If your research is funded, you should also seek approval from your funder to apply for the internship. We can provide a letter of recommendation to successful applicants should it be required.

How we will assess your application

Proposals will be assessed using the standard ESRC expert reviewer scoring system against the following assessment criteria:

The application should specify: 

  • what aspects of the digital good the proposed activities address 
  • which of the network’s three societal challenges the activities address

This includes:

  • how the proposed activities will generate new knowledge and lead to new insights
  • clearly described and justified activities, including indicative research methods and research design where applicable

Has the application made it clear how the proposed activities will develop the applicant?

Applicants must commit to contributing to the network in the following ways:

  • Attending a future internship information session to talk about their experience with potential future applicants.
  • Producing Digital Good Network content (eg a blogpost or short video) about their internship experience. 

The costs of making these contributions will be covered by the network.

A final decision on the combination of successful applicants will be based on disciplinary spread (Do we have broad coverage across disciplines amongst selected interns?) and EDI (Do we have a diverse and inclusive cohort of interns in our final selection?)

Applications will be reviewed by the Digital Good Network Management Team. We will follow principles of peer review, including on conflicts of interest. The most highly ranked applications will be awarded a stipend, up the maximum number of awards in this round. Assessment processes will be overseen by our Network Manager

FAQs

How many internships will you offer?

We will fund five internships in the 2023 call.  One is ring-fenced for BBC R&D, one is ring-fenced for Zinc and the remaining three could be for internships with any suitable host.

What kind of format for internships (eg, hybrid, temporarily relocating to the internship host organisation) will be considered?

The format of internships should be discussed with your proposed host organisation. Some internships may take place by working in the offices of the host organisation. Other internships may adopt a hybrid format (eg, visiting once or twice a week or month). Interns are likely to benefit from at least occasional face-to-face contact with the named person at their organisation. Stipends awarded cannot be topped up, so applicants need to be sure they have enough financial support to enable the working format they deem appropriate for their proposed activities. 

Can you give some examples of the types of activities an internship like this could support?

We do not want to be prescriptive about what interns spend their internships doing. It is for applicants to work with organisations to develop a feasible set of activities that enable the intern to develop their own research skills, whilst undertaking work that is beneficial in some way to the host organisation.

For example, previous PhD students who have completed Zinc placements have worked with ventures on user research (eg, conducting interviews), literature reviewing (eg, summarising published research on a particular topic of interest), evaluation (eg, measuring the impact of the venture's product), data analysis and modelling, as well as wider activities related to product and business development. Because these ventures are at an early stage, this research activity tends to be very impactful and valuable for the venture.

What kind of organisation would be an eligible host organisation?

We will consider internships hosted at a broad range of organisations.  These could be smaller or larger in size; regional or international in reach; in the private, public or third sector. Host organisations must be able to deliver the requirements of a host, as specified above.

How do stipends work? How will I access the money?

We will pay stipends in two instalments of 50%. One will be made shortly in advance of the internship commencing. The second will be made after submission of progress reports at the end of week 4 from both the intern (approx 500 words) and the host (approx 100-200 words).

Your home University will need to invoice us and we will transfer the money to them. They will, in turn, transfer the money to you.

Am I eligible to apply if I'm in the writing up stage?

Internships funded in this round must take place in the 2024 calendar year. If you are in your writing up stage and you can get support from your supervisor and University to take the required leave of absence to enable you to complete the internship, we welcome your application. If successful, your internship would need to take place before your PhD (including your writing up stage) comes to an end.

Timeline

6 June: Digital Good Network Internship call launches

22 June: Information session

31 July: Expression of interest deadline for Zinc, CAST and BBC R&D 

29 September: Internship application form deadline

Early November: Decisions communicated to applicants

2024: Internships to take place