Internship week on Innovation Management

05 February 2018

This week we focus on the option for students on the Master’s programme in Innovation Management to undertake an internship during the third semester at SDC.

During the week, you will become acquainted with four students currently doing internships in China. However, the week is jump-started by the Head of Programme, Associate Professor, Dmitrij Slepniov, Aalborg University, who explains why internships are an integral part of the Master’s programme.

Why are internships a part of the IM program?

There are several reasons for that. First of all, the program is inspired by the problem based learning, which calls for teaching that is engaged with practice. The ethos of the IM program is that we don’t work only theoretically, but we work with close connections with industrial partners and with practice. That’s how we learn.

On the first semester on the IM program the students get the basic understanding of innovation theory, contemporary innovation theory, innovation management, and what it takes to organise an innovative organisation. On the second semester, they applying this concept in different contexts, but that still goes on in the class room and as part of company visits. So, they advance their understanding of what innovation management means, but it is still sort of theoretical. And then the next step is the natural progression of applying the basic knowledge, knowledge of application of concepts in practice. In real life situations. In dealing with real-life problems at real-life companies.

How do students find internships?

It is really a mixed bag. Some students show initiative and come up with the project and find a host themselves. Some make use of the network of previous host companies that we refer them to. In some cases, students are able to make contact with hosts through the research activities of teachers on the Master’s program. Finally, we continuously get new internship hosts contacting us, who have heard that there is this exciting international Innovation Management Master’s program in China.

When we started out five years ago our best access was actually to Danish international flagship companies like Grundfos, Novo Nordisk and Arla, but over the years we see that we get more international and Chinese companies. This is a positive trend and I hope that we will be able to continue it, because it reflects the ethos of SDC being a Sino-Danish center.

How do the students benefit from doing internships?

Let me start with the obvious stuff. Applying in practice what they learn in the class room during the first and second semester, I think is really important for the program and for their learning. Besides that, advancing their critical thinking and also realizing that theory isn’t everything, right? Many things simple in theory, but much more challenging in practice.

The institution of the internship gives the students the opportunity to go to a company for three to four months and test out the assumptions and expectations that they have about themselves and about the job market, while they are still connected to their studies. It allows them to spend some time thinking about what their strengths and weaknesses are and figure out whether their ideal workplace would be a large international company, a small start-up or perhaps starting a business of their own.

My experience shows that for quite a few of the students it is their first practical experience of going outside of the class room, so I also see the internship as a great opportunity to pilot their job hunting while they are still a part of the program.

In terms of gains going forward, the opportunity to extend their network is absolutely something our students can benefit from beyond their studies. The people they work with at the host companies and sometimes business partners outside of the companies become extended networks of contacts, which will help them to search for Master’s thesis cases and in some cases employment after graduating.

What do the hosts get out of having one of your students for a semester?

Most importantly, they get to add a young talent with an outsider’s perspective that is eager to learn and contribute to their team for the duration of the internship, and in many cases the feedback we get from the hosts is that they benefit quite a lot from having one of our students as an intern. This is also how we manage to maintain our network of hosts. After having run the program for five years, we have developed a network of collaborating organisations, so now the practice shows that we every year end up with more companies offering and wanting our interns than we have students.

How do you ensure that the students are in beneficial internships?

For the companies whom we know and are part of our network it is easy, because we usually deal with the same managers and they know what we want and expect. For the newcomers, I usually use the internship agreement as a way to check if the proposed deal or idea of the internship fits the suit and the student will be able to fulfil the learning objectives of the students learn and advance their understanding of innovation theory. We have an up-front discussion with the companies where we tell them that we really want to make it win/win, so they should consider what good problems or tasks they could put to a young talent and where they might need an outsider’s perspective on certain things.

The vast majority of the students on the Innovation Management program choose to do an internship in China or elsewhere in the world. However, those who would rather stay within academia and push forward on their learning have the opportunity to do so by studying at another university or produce a written research-based project during the third semester.

Internships usually last 3-6 months. Some students choose to extend the internship and write the thesis in cooperation with the host company or organisation.