A fellowship is not an internship

I am a Knauss Fellow. The process whereby I was selected to my current position was long and difficult. Four years as an undergraduate, one year working in a lab, and four and a half as a graduate student. In that time I conducted research over five field seasons, which was funded by numerous self-obtained small grants. I have a double-digit publication record with more to come. I’ve presented at numerous scientific meetings and think that I’m fairly well-respected (minus a few people who just really have it out for me) in my field.* So, when people who are unfamiliar with the Knauss Fellowship ask me what I do, and their response is “Oh, so you’re an intern”, I tend to get a little defensive.

For the most part, the work “fellowship” holds a different meaning than “internship”. Fellowships usually pertain to those pursuing a post-bachelors degree, or who have already obtained such a degree. For example, there is the EPA STAR Fellowship for graduate students (also available for undergrads), as well as AAAS Fellows. These programs/awards are in stark contrast to “internships”.

I will be the first to admit that most individuals mean no offense when they call me an intern. In their world, it never would have dawned on them to do a fellowship in between graduating from university and getting a job. Oddly enough, the fellowship idea plays much better when describing my current position due to the corollaries with the academic postdoc (and yes, I understand that this does not count as a postdoc). Still, it doesn’t change the sense of frustration that I feel when explaining to people that no, as a PhD I am not doing an internship.

(Note: Though I feel rather strongly on this issue, I am the opposite on that “call me a doctor” argument. For the most part, I do not think that having a PhD is that  big of a deal, probably because all of my academic peers do as well.)

The Knauss Fellowship is the culmination of years and years of hard work and a lot of schooling. Maybe this is just an argument over semantics, or maybe it is a distinction that should be made. Either way, I’m sure I will be referred to a an intern more times over the course of my fellowship. I better get used to it.


*This may all seem like gloating, but it is far from it. My CV is posted on my website and my Google scholar profile is public, so this information is out there. Anyone in the field knows that this is just the amount of work you need to do to even stay competitive.


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