Research Internship Vs Research Externship: Key Differences

Research Internship Vs Research Externship

In the realm of academia and professional development, practical experience holds immense value for students and aspiring researchers. The opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge, gain hands-on skills, and immerse oneself in real-world research settings can shape the trajectory of a budding researcher’s career.

Two common avenues that offer such practical learning experiences are research internships and research externships. While the terms may sound similar, there are distinct differences between these two forms of engagement.

In this blog post, we will explore the contrasting nature of research internships and research externships, shedding light on their unique characteristics, learning opportunities, and potential benefits.

Whether you’re a student seeking a research opportunity or a researcher considering different avenues for mentorship and professional growth, understanding these differences will empower you to make an informed decision. Let’s delve into the world of research internships and research externships to uncover their nuances and discover which path aligns best with your aspirations.


Research internships and research externships provide valuable practical experiences for students and aspiring researchers, allowing them to apply their theoretical knowledge in real-world settings. These opportunities play a crucial role in shaping their academic and professional growth.

For instance, imagine a student pursuing a degree in biology. While classroom lectures and textbooks provide a solid foundation of scientific principles, it is through research internships and externships that they can truly immerse themselves in the world of scientific discovery. By working alongside experienced researchers in a laboratory or field setting, they gain firsthand experience in conducting experiments, analyzing data, and contributing to ongoing research projects.

Practical research experiences offer several key benefits to individuals aspiring to pursue a career in academia or scientific research. Firstly, they bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and its practical application. Students get the opportunity to see how concepts and methodologies learned in the classroom translate into real experiments, data collection, and analysis. This hands-on experience enhances their understanding of the research process and strengthens their problem-solving abilities.

Secondly, research internships and externships provide exposure to different research environments and methodologies. Students can explore various areas of interest within their field of study, working on diverse projects and collaborating with experts from different subfields. This exposure helps them gain a broader perspective, discover new research interests, and refine their career goals.

Furthermore, practical research experiences offer invaluable networking opportunities. By working alongside established researchers, interns and externs can establish professional connections and build mentor-mentee relationships. These connections can be instrumental in obtaining future research opportunities, securing recommendation letters, or even finding employment in the field.

In summary, research internships and externships play a vital role in the development of students and aspiring researchers. They provide a platform to bridge the gap between theory and practice, gain exposure to diverse research environments, and foster professional connections.

These practical experiences are invaluable in preparing individuals for successful careers in academia and scientific research, making them an essential component of a well-rounded education in the sciences.

Research Internships

A. Definition and Purpose of Internships

Research internships are structured programs that provide students or recent graduates with the opportunity to work in a professional research setting, typically within their field of study. The primary purpose of research internships is to offer practical training and hands-on experience to participants. These internships serve as a bridge between academic knowledge and real-world application, allowing individuals to apply theoretical concepts and methodologies in a research context.

The goals of research internships are multifaceted. Firstly, interns gain valuable hands-on experience in conducting research, which helps them develop practical skills that are essential for their future careers. They have the opportunity to engage in data collection, experimental design, literature reviews, data analysis, and other research-related tasks. By actively participating in research projects, interns can gain a deeper understanding of the research process, experimental techniques, and analytical methods specific to their field.

Secondly, research internships provide interns with the chance to apply the theoretical knowledge they have acquired during their academic studies. This application of theoretical concepts in a real-world setting allows them to see how research questions are formulated, how hypotheses are tested, and how results are interpreted. Through this process, interns enhance their critical thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills.

B. Duration and Structure of Internships

Research internships typically have a defined duration, which can vary depending on the organization and the nature of the research project. Internships can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months. The duration allows interns to gain a substantial amount of hands-on experience and contribute meaningfully to the research being conducted.

Research internships are often structured programs with specific tasks and projects assigned to the interns. The structure ensures that interns have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities within the research team. They may work under the supervision of a mentor or a principal investigator who guides them through the research process, provides feedback, and facilitates their learning.

Interns may be assigned specific research projects or tasks that align with their skills and interests. These projects could involve data collection, laboratory experiments, fieldwork, literature reviews, or data analysis. The structured nature of research internships helps interns develop a focused understanding of the research field and contributes to their professional growth.

To illustrate, consider a student pursuing a computer science degree who secures a research internship at a technology company. During the internship, they may be assigned to a research project that involves developing and optimizing algorithms for data analysis. Under the guidance of experienced researchers, the intern will have the opportunity to apply their programming skills, gain hands-on experience with real-world datasets, and contribute to the advancement of knowledge in their field.

By providing a defined duration and structured tasks, research internships offer interns a comprehensive learning experience and exposure to the research process in their respective fields of study.

C. Level of Responsibility in Internships

Research internships provide interns with a significant level of responsibility and engagement within the research projects they are involved in. While interns may work under the guidance of experienced researchers, they are often given the opportunity to take ownership of specific tasks and projects.

Interns are expected to actively contribute to the research process by conducting experiments, collecting data, analyzing results, and drawing conclusions. They may have the opportunity to work independently on certain aspects of the project, demonstrating their ability to handle research tasks autonomously.

For example, in a biology research internship, an intern may be responsible for conducting laboratory experiments, including preparing samples, running assays, and recording data. They may also be entrusted with the analysis of collected data, such as statistical analysis or data visualization, under the guidance of a supervisor. This level of responsibility allows interns to develop a sense of ownership and accountability for their work while building confidence in their research skills.

D. Learning Opportunities in Internships

Research internships offer a wide range of learning opportunities that contribute to interns’ professional development and skill enhancement. Some of the key learning opportunities provided by research internships include:

  1. Skill Development: Interns have the chance to develop and refine various skills relevant to their field of study. These can include technical skills, such as laboratory techniques, data analysis software, or programming languages, as well as transferable skills like communication, teamwork, and problem-solving. Through hands-on experience and exposure to real research projects, interns can significantly enhance their skill set.
  2. Exposure to Research Methodologies: Research internships expose interns to different research methodologies and approaches within their discipline. They learn about the specific techniques and methodologies used in their field, gaining practical experience in their application. This exposure allows interns to broaden their knowledge and understanding of research methods, strengthening their ability to design and conduct experiments effectively.
  3. Mentorship and Guidance: Interns often work closely with experienced researchers who serve as mentors during their internships. These mentors provide guidance, support, and feedback throughout the research process. The mentorship aspect of research internships allows interns to learn from seasoned professionals, benefit from their expertise, and receive valuable advice for their academic and career development.

For instance, a research intern in a psychology lab studying cognitive processes may receive mentorship from a senior researcher. The mentor may guide them in designing experiments, analyzing data using specialized software, and interpreting the results. The mentor’s guidance not only enhances the intern’s technical skills but also provides insights into the research field, helping them develop critical thinking and research ethics.

Overall, research internships provide a rich learning environment where interns can acquire and refine skills, gain exposure to research methodologies, and receive guidance from experienced researchers. These opportunities significantly contribute to their personal and professional growth, preparing them for future academic pursuits or careers in research.

E. Compensation in Internships

When it comes to research internships, compensation can vary depending on various factors, including the organization offering the internship, the nature of the research project, local laws, and industry norms. It’s important to note that while some research internships are paid, others may be unpaid.

Paid Internships: Certain research internships offer monetary compensation to interns for their work. These paid internships often occur in industries where internships are highly competitive, or in organizations that have budgetary resources to support interns financially. For example, large pharmaceutical companies or research institutions may offer paid internships to attract top talent and provide interns with financial support during their research experience.

Unpaid Internships: On the other hand, there are research internships that are unpaid. These internships are more common in academic settings, non-profit organizations, or smaller research labs with limited funding. In some cases, unpaid internships are structured as educational experiences, where the focus is primarily on learning and gaining practical skills rather than monetary compensation.

It’s worth noting that the legality of unpaid internships varies across different jurisdictions. Some countries or regions have specific regulations and criteria that organizations must meet to offer unpaid internships, such as providing educational value, limited duration, and ensuring that interns do not displace regular employees. It’s important for both interns and organizations to understand the local labor laws and regulations regarding internships.

Additionally, even if an internship is unpaid, there may still be non-monetary benefits associated with the experience. These benefits can include networking opportunities, mentorship, access to resources, and the chance to build a strong foundation for future academic or professional endeavors.

Ultimately, whether an internship is paid or unpaid depends on a range of factors. It’s crucial for prospective interns to consider their financial situation, the potential benefits of the internship, and their personal career goals when evaluating compensation options. It’s recommended to thoroughly research and consider all aspects of an internship, including compensation, before making a decision.

Example: A research intern in the field of environmental science may secure an unpaid internship at a non-profit organization dedicated to ecological conservation. Despite being unpaid, the intern recognizes the opportunity to work alongside renowned scientists in the field, gain hands-on experience in field research techniques, and contribute to important conservation projects. While the internship doesn’t offer monetary compensation, the intern sees the educational value and the chance to make a positive impact as significant benefits of the experience.

Prominent Companies That Offer Research Internships

Here are a few companies that have been known to offer research internships along with their websites:

Google Research
Microsoft Research
IBM Research
Facebook Research
Intel Labs
Adobe Research
NVIDIA Research
Amazon Science

Remember to visit the respective websites for the most up-to-date information on their research internship programs, application deadlines, and requirements.

Research Externship

A. Definition and Purpose of Externship

Research externships are short-term educational experiences that allow students or aspiring researchers to observe and learn from experienced professionals in their field of interest. The primary purpose of research externships is to provide individuals with the opportunity to gain insight into the research process, learn from established researchers, and deepen their understanding of their chosen field.

Unlike research internships, which often involve active engagement and hands-on work, research externships have an observational nature. Externs primarily focus on observing and learning from experienced researchers, rather than actively participating in independent research projects. The emphasis is on gaining exposure, acquiring knowledge, and developing a broader perspective on the field.

Research externships serve as a means for externs to witness the day-to-day activities of professionals in their chosen field and gain insights into the practical aspects of research. By observing experienced researchers, externs can better understand how research questions are formulated, methodologies are implemented, and results are interpreted. This exposure can be invaluable in shaping their own research interests and goals.

B. Duration and Structure of Externship

Research externships are typically shorter in duration compared to research internships. They generally last from a few days to a few weeks, providing a concentrated period of observational learning. The shorter duration allows externs to get a glimpse into the research environment and experience different aspects of the research process without the same level of commitment as an internship.

During research externships, externs usually observe and assist established researchers in their ongoing projects. They may shadow researchers in laboratories, accompany them during fieldwork, or attend research team meetings and seminars. The externs’ role is to observe and learn from the professionals, gaining insights into their methodologies, experimental techniques, and analytical approaches.

Externs may have the opportunity to ask questions, engage in discussions, and receive explanations from the researchers they are working with. While externs are not typically assigned their own independent projects, they may assist with specific tasks within ongoing projects, such as data collection, literature reviews, or simple experimental procedures. The assistance they provide allows them to gain a deeper understanding of the research process while supporting the work of established researchers.

For example, a student pursuing a physics degree may secure a research externship at a renowned physics laboratory. During the externship, they may spend a week observing and assisting a leading physicist in their research on quantum mechanics. The extern would have the opportunity to observe experiments, learn about advanced laboratory techniques, and engage in discussions with the researcher and other members of the research team. The externship provides a focused learning experience that complements their academic studies and offers insights into the practical application of physics research.

In summary, research externships offer individuals the chance to observe and learn from experienced researchers, gaining insights into the research process and deepening their understanding of their chosen field. With a shorter duration and an emphasis on observation rather than active engagement, externships provide valuable learning opportunities for individuals aspiring to pursue research careers.

C. Level of Responsibility in Externship

Research externships generally involve a lower level of responsibility compared to research internships. Externs primarily focus on observing and learning from the research process rather than actively engaging in independent research tasks. Their role is more passive, allowing them to gain valuable insights without shouldering the same level of responsibility as interns.

Externs may not have direct involvement in decision-making processes or the autonomy to undertake independent research projects. Instead, they observe the decision-making and problem-solving strategies employed by experienced researchers. By witnessing these processes, externs gain a deeper understanding of how research questions are formulated, experimental designs are created, and data analysis is performed.

For example, a student pursuing a chemistry degree participating in a research externship might spend their time shadowing a seasoned chemist in a pharmaceutical company’s research and development department. The extern would observe the chemist’s work, attend meetings, and learn about the decision-making processes involved in designing experiments and selecting methodologies. While they might not actively contribute to the decision-making, they gain insights into the considerations and factors taken into account.

D. Learning Opportunities Externships

Research externships provide a range of learning opportunities that contribute to the externs’ knowledge and professional growth. Some of the key learning opportunities offered by research externships include:

  1. Insight into Research Methodologies: Externs have the chance to gain firsthand insight into various research methodologies employed within their field. They observe how established researchers design experiments, collect and analyze data, and interpret the results. This exposure enhances their understanding of research methodologies, helping them develop a solid foundation for their future research endeavors.
  2. Industry Practices and Professional Etiquette: Externs have the opportunity to observe and learn about the specific practices, protocols, and professional etiquette followed in their chosen field or industry. They gain insights into how research teams collaborate, communicate, and organize their work. This exposure helps externs understand the dynamics of the industry, contributing to their professional development.
  3. Networking and Professional Connections: Research externships often offer valuable networking opportunities. Externs have the chance to interact with experienced professionals, establish professional connections, and expand their network within the research community. These connections can provide guidance, mentorship, and potential future collaboration or job opportunities.

For instance, an extern in a psychology research lab might attend department seminars, workshops, or conferences as part of their externship experience. This exposure not only allows them to learn from established researchers in their field but also provides opportunities to network with other professionals and build relationships that can be beneficial for their future academic or career pursuits.

E. Compensation in Externships

The issue of compensation for research externships can vary depending on the organization or institution offering the opportunity. Research externships may or may not be compensated, depending on various factors such as the organization’s policies, available resources, and the nature of the externship itself.

Some research externships may offer compensation, especially if they are highly competitive or take place in industry settings where compensation is more common. In such cases, externs may receive a stipend or an hourly wage for their time and contribution.

However, it’s important to note that many research externships, particularly those in academic settings or with non-profit organizations, are often unpaid. In these instances, the focus is primarily on providing a valuable learning experience rather than financial compensation. Externs may consider the educational and networking benefits, along with the potential for gaining industry-specific knowledge and mentorship, as significant advantages despite the lack of monetary compensation.

Externs should carefully consider their financial situation and weigh the potential benefits when deciding to pursue compensated or unpaid externship opportunities. Additionally, it’s essential to research and understand the policies and expectations regarding compensation for externships from the specific organization or institution offering the opportunity.

Organizations Which May Offer Research Externships

Research externships are less standardized than internships, and they might not be as commonly advertised or structured as internships. However, you can still find opportunities for research externships in various organizations. Here are a few examples of organizations that might offer research externships:

  1. Universities and Research Institutions: Many universities and research institutes offer short-term research programs or workshops where participants can observe ongoing research projects. Look for renowned universities and research centers in your field of interest.
  2. National Laboratories: Government-funded laboratories often provide educational programs that allow students to visit and learn from scientists and researchers in their labs. Examples include NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and national laboratories like Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
  3. Museums and Cultural Institutions: Some museums and cultural institutions offer externship-like programs where participants can learn about conservation, archaeology, or other research-related activities.
  4. Industry Associations: Associations related to your field of interest might offer programs that allow you to visit companies or institutions to learn about industry practices and research.
  5. Non-profit Organizations: Organizations focused on specific issues or areas might offer educational programs or workshops that include observational learning experiences.
  6. Medical and Healthcare Settings: Hospitals and medical research institutions might provide observational experiences for students interested in medical research and healthcare.
  7. Technology Companies: Certain technology companies might offer short-term visits or workshops for students to learn about their research and development activities.

It’s important to note that research externships might be less standardized and advertised compared to internships. You might need to reach out directly to organizations, academic departments, or professionals in your field to inquire about observational learning opportunities. Additionally, the availability of externships can vary widely depending on your location, field of interest, and the connections you have in the academic and professional community.

Key Differences and Similarities: Research Internship Vs Research Externship

Research internships and research externships have distinct characteristics, but they also share some common elements and objectives. Let’s explore the main differences and similarities between these two types of research experiences:


  1. Duration: Research internships are generally longer in duration, ranging from a few weeks to several months. In contrast, research externships are shorter, typically lasting from a few days to a few weeks.
  2. Level of Responsibility: Interns often have a higher level of responsibility compared to externs. Interns actively engage in research projects, working on assigned tasks and projects, and may have a certain degree of autonomy in their work. Externs, on the other hand, primarily observe and learn from experienced researchers, with less direct involvement in decision-making or independent research tasks.
  3. Hands-on Involvement: Internships usually involve hands-on work, where interns actively participate in data collection, analysis, and other research-related tasks. Externships, in contrast, have an observational nature, allowing externs to primarily observe and learn from the research process rather than actively engaging in independent research tasks.


  1. Learning Objectives: Both research internships and externships aim to provide valuable learning experiences for participants. The objectives include gaining practical research skills, applying theoretical knowledge, and developing a deeper understanding of the research field.
  2. Exposure to Research Environment: Both internships and externships offer participants exposure to the research environment. Participants have the opportunity to observe experienced researchers, witness the research process firsthand, and gain insights into research methodologies and industry practices.
  3. Networking and Professional Connections: Both types of research experiences provide networking opportunities, allowing participants to establish professional connections within the research community. Participants can interact with experienced professionals, potentially leading to mentorship, future collaborations, or job opportunities.
  4. Career Exploration: Both internships and externships offer individuals the chance to explore their chosen field and refine their career goals. Participants can gain insights into different areas of research, work with professionals in their field of interest, and assess whether the field aligns with their aspirations.

For example, let’s consider a research intern and a research extern both interested in astronomy. The intern, during a three-month internship at an observatory, actively engages in data collection and analysis, contributes to ongoing research projects, and attends research team meetings.

In contrast, the extern, during a one-week externship, shadows an astronomer, attends lectures, and gains insights into telescope operations and data processing techniques. While the intern has a longer duration and higher level of responsibility, both experiences provide valuable learning opportunities and exposure to the research field of astronomy.

In summary, research internships and research externships have differences in duration, level of responsibility, and hands-on involvement. However, they share common elements such as learning objectives, exposure to the research environment, networking opportunities, and career exploration. Individuals seeking research experiences should consider their preferences, goals, and available opportunities when deciding between internships and externships.

Comparison of Research Internships Vs Research Externships

Research InternshipResearch Externship
DurationLonger (weeks to months)Shorter (days to weeks)
Level of ResponsibilityHigh: Active engagement and independent workLow: Primarily observational, limited involvement in decision-making or independent research tasks
Hands-on InvolvementActively participate in research tasks and projectsPrimarily observe and learn from experienced researchers
Learning ObjectivesGain practical research skills, apply theoretical knowledge, professional developmentGain insights into research methodologies, industry practices, deepen understanding of the field
CompensationMay be paid or unpaidMay be paid or unpaid, varies depending on the organization
Networking and Professional ConnectionsOpportunities to network, build professional connectionsOpportunities to network, build professional connections
Career ExplorationOpportunity to explore a specific research field and refine career goalsOpportunity to explore a specific research field and refine career goals

Remember that while this table provides a general overview, there may be variations in the specific characteristics and expectations of research internships and externships depending on the organization, field of study, and regional practices.

Research Internships Worldwide @ Your Finger Tips

Visit our interactive world map! This map is a powerful tool for exploring research internships available worldwide. With it, you can easily find information about research opportunities in different countries. Click on the map or the Button below to visit our Research Internship Worldmap.

Before We Close:

Explore an array of insightful articles within the realm of research internships, all neatly categorized under the Research Internship section.


Both research internships and research externships offer valuable opportunities for students and aspiring researchers to gain practical experience and enhance their understanding of the research process. While they have distinct differences in terms of duration, level of responsibility, and hands-on involvement, they share common objectives such as learning, exposure to the research environment, networking, and career exploration.

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Dr. Vijay Rajpurohit
Author: Dr. Vijay Rajpurohit
Dr. Vijay Rajpurohit is a researcher in Computer Science. He loves to educate researchers and research scholars on Research Paper Writing, Thesis Writing, Research Grants, Patenting Research Work and the latest Research-related issues. You can reach him @ [email protected]