This post reflects on a 3-month internship I did at Ordnance Survey’s (OS) headquarter between June and September 2017. This internship formed part of the requirements of the Horizon Digital Economy PhD program at the University of Nottingham. In this doctoral program, most students are jointly sponsored by commercial and academic institutions, my PhD is jointly sponsored by the Horizon Digital Economy Centre for Doctoral Training and OS. On the one hand, my research contributed to OS’ organisational development activities. The first part of the blogpost summarises the focus of my internship research. On the other hand, the internship necessitated a reflection on my role and agency as a PhD student, in relation to the host organisation (OS) and the University department. The second part of the blogpost presents this personal reflection. Collaboration between academia and industry is becoming more and more popular (Mendoza, 2007). It is my hope that the thoughts in this blogpost contribute discussion about student experience in such collaborative PhD programs.

Due to the availability of novel technologies, geo-tagged data types and mapping platforms, national mapping agencies (NMAs), such as OS, need to reflect on and re-imagine their role (cf. Crampton, 2010; Mooney & Morley, 2014). In addition, many NMAs are required to operate with decreased budgets (Mooney & Morley, 2014). These necessitate a change in their ways of working, or in other words, require innovation. However, within OS, activities related to innovation and R&D are distributed between actors and teams, who hold different views about innovation and R&D. Through a series of interviews with OS employees, my project contributed to OS’ understanding how innovation happens within the organisation.

Students’ experiences in an industry sponsored PhD program are highly variable. My internship experience was affected by the history of my relationship with the industry partner (OS) throughout my PhD studies. During the internship and my studies prior to it, I experienced three social roles in relation to OS. First, as a PhD student, a significant aspect of my interaction with OS involved crafting and developing a research a project that relates to their work, whilst also fulfilling the academic requirements of doctoral research. Working with the company as a PhD student meant that my expertise in my topic was continually developing over the course of our collaboration, and especially at the beginning of my studies, OS often acted as an external advisor. Second, as an intern at OS, I became formally part of the organisation. In this role, I had a specific task to complete. As an intern working with OS for 3 months, my role was similar to a junior member of the organisation: I got introduced to various teams, to OS’ day to day work, and had to report to a line manager. Third, as a PhD intern with a standalone project, my everyday work rhythm and responsibilities were most similar to that of an external consultant, who reflects on the workings of the organisation from an outside perspective. In the consultant role, my activities included delivering a project as an expert in the subject matter of the research I was undertaking. Relocating for 3 months to a new city, with the insecurities around accommodation and the general long term insecurity that is part of the PhD experience further blurred the boundary between these three roles. Was I a student-intern, a junior staff member or an external consultant?

Successfully completing the internship required me to take agency at shaping my role in relation to the OS at different stages of our collaboration, and defining the requirements and responsibilities of each role in an authentic and flexible manner.

Crampton, J. W. (2010). Mapping: A Critical Introduction to Cartography and GIS. Wiley-Blackwell.

Mendoza, P. (2007). Academic Capitalism and Doctoral Student Socialization: A Case Study. The Journal of Higher Education, 78(1), 71–96.

Mooney, P., & Morley, J. (2014). Crowdsourcing in National Mapping. Official Publication #64 EuroSDR European Spatial Data Research, April 2014.