What is the difference between a placement and internship?

Many employers, and people generally, use these terms interchangeably. Imperial College London Internship Unit uses the terms in the following way:

Internship – Usually work experience for a short length of time (e.g. 6 - 12 weeks) often over the summer vacation and not part of your course. Could be in an area unrelated to your course. We advertise these on JobsLive as 'Summer Internships' or 'Other Internships'. Other internships could include internships that run at Easter or Christmas. On JobsLive we also advertise 'Graduate Internships' for those students that have already completed their degree.

Placement – A placement is defined by the College as always forming part of your degree programme. This would usually be a year placement in industry, or potentially lasting a shorter period such as 6 months. However, the type and number of placement opportunities available to students will depend on their academic department. We advertise these on JobsLive as either 'Placement (4 - 12 months)'.

Insights - Many investment banks, financial services companies and other organisations run Easter 'Insight’ programmes or 'Spring weeks' designed for first year students or second year students on four year courses. The insight programmes often include training courses or work shadowing opportunities rather than actual work and are designed to give an introduction to the sector. These insight programmes will help you gain a formal internship in your penultimate year.

What are the other ways to get experience?

Voluntary work – you could get involved in all sorts of different projects in the UK or abroad. See our volunteering page for more information. We advertise these vacancies on JobsLive. Do-it is also a useful resource.

Part-time/Seasonal or Casual work – Don’t underestimate these opportunities as they can be a great way to develop your customer service, communication and interpersonal skills.

Work shadowing/informational interviewing – If you know someone that works in a particular industry it can be useful to ask to meet them for an hour or shadow them for half a day to understand their role and whether it might suit you.

Should I get paid for a placement or internship?

The Careers Service believes that you should get paid and therefore we do not advertise any unpaid vacancies on JobsLive. This is because it contravenes the National Minimum Wage act. The only unpaid opportunities you will find on JobsLive will be opportunities with a charity or statutory body or those that do not involve any actual work such as a work shadowing opportunity or company insight event.

How should an employer look after my health and safety during my placement or internship?

The Health and Safety Executive set out guidelines for employers regarding what they must do to ensure their employees work in safe environment. This includes making sure you have access to washing facilities, drinking water, first aid equipment and that a risk assessment has taken place. They must also have Employer Liability Insurance. These guidelines also apply to temporary workers.

When you undertake a placement as part of your degree programme (or an internship for extra-ECTS credit) the College has a responsibility for your health, safety and personal as well as academic welfare throughout your placement. Your home academic department will always lead on managing your placement, and you should always first with the relevant member of staff in your department for guidance. You can read more about the College’s approach to placements here.

I’m an international student; can I do a placement or internship?

There are no restrictions for students from the European Economic Area (EEA) who wish to do a placement or internship.

Most international students will be entitled to work up to 20 hours each week during term time and there is no restriction of hours for work during the holidays. Our pages for international students and also the Imperial College London international office have more information on this. For employment in some sectors it may be required that you have been resident in the UK for a certain period of time for security reasons.

If you are doing a placement as a compulsory part of your course, then overseas students do not require work permits. However, if you require a work permit in the long term then some companies will not consider you for a placement or internship, because they use them as an extended recruitment exercise.

I’m going on placement as part of my course; do I still have to pay fees?

The College lists information on reduced fees for Students on a Year in Industry/Research. These vary according to your faculty and course start date. For any other placement or internship you will be charged the full fee.

My department does not offer a placement year but I would like to do one. What can I do?

It may be possible for you to do this if you take a study break. You would need to apply to Registry for an interruption of studies. If you took this option you would not be considered as a registered student for that year. International students should seek advice from the International Office regarding visa conditions.

I'm interested in undertaking an international internship. What options are there?

  • Amgen Scholars - the Amgen Scholars Europe Programme provides undergraduate students with the opportunity to engage in a hands-on summer research experience at some of Europe’s leading educational institutions. One unique component of the programme is the concluding symposium in Cambridge, where participating students can meet peers from across Europe, network with scientists and learn about science careers in industry and academia
  • BUNAC - holidays working abroad
  • Camp America - US Summer camp breaks. Placements can include work as camp counsellors
  • Campus Access - a Canadian site with subject based directories of internship programmes in Canada and around the world
  • Council on International Educational Exchange - wide range of work and study options in China/Japan/USA and many more! Variety of options, including vacation work to more career-related
  • Engineers Without Borders (Imperial Engineers Without Borders) - EWB is helping to build a world where everyone has access to the technology and infrastructure they need to defeat poverty. They are offering students and new professionals the opportunity to work with partner development organisations across the world.
  • Going Global - international career and employment resources include world-wide job openings, internship listings, industry profiles and country-specific career information
  • IAESTE - International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE) is an international association active in over 60 countries. It aims to provide science and engineering undergraduates with paid, course-related vacation training experience abroad
  • Imperial College International Summer Research Placements - In conjunction with Imperial departments and partner universities all over the world, the International Office coordinates opportunities for undergraduate students to gain research experience at a foreign university. They also list external opportunities on their webpage
  • Istplus - placement programme offering opportunities, from working and travelling in Thailand or China, to internships in the USA
  • Raleigh International - charity which provides opportunities to work on challenging environmental and community projects around the world
  • Union of International Associations - search the websites of all intergovernmental organisations (IGOs), comprising over 3,000 bodies including the United Nations, the European Commission, the World Bank, etc. If you search for "internships" in the search box you will find that many schemes appear.

My employer has asked for an internship agreement or convention de stage. What should I do?

If a host company or organisation indicates that they can only confirm the offer of an internship upon completion of a tri-partite agreement (student; host; Imperial) then you are advised to speak first to your Director of Undergraduate Studies. The Assistant Registrar (Placements) is available to advise departments on the options, although the College cannot guarantee to be able to sign such an agreement. This is particularly an issue in France and other francophone countries.