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5 tips for working with data science interns

Sarah K. White | Oct. 27, 2015
Interns want valuable experience, and with a little effort, an internship can become just as fruitful for your department as it is for their resume. Here are five tips on how to get the best out of your data science interns.

"Look for questions you cannot currently answer with data science and push the interns to figure out how to answer those questions. Interns have bright ideas, but don't always have in-depth business backgrounds." Goyal says. "This is actually the perfect combination that can be used as a problem-solving advantage because you can optimize for intellectual experience and lack of preconceived notions."

Provide strong leadership

If you plan to bring on interns, make sure your team has an organized plan by assigning someone with strong leadership skills and extensive experience to head up the intern program. Pairing more experienced data scientists -- the "people who know how to ask the right questions, and how to answer them," as Goyal puts it -- with interns can create the right balance of experience and inexperience. "There is a yin and yang between the experienced veteran and up-and-comers. The right mix of these people can result in key data science breakthroughs," Goyal says.

Interns can bring a unique perspective and new ideas to your team, which can offer valuable insights you might not get from workers who are busy with their day to day tasks. But you can't forget that interns need leadership, especially since this is their first experience in a workplace setting, so to get the best out of your interns, you need to give them the right guidance.

Try new things

When you've got extra manpower on the team, even in the form of interns, it can be a great opportunity to try new things you might not have had the time for otherwise. Interns want responsibility, and you should be more than happy to give it to them. Assigning interns to new and inventive projects is a great way to give them the sense of responsibility they need, but also in a low-risk scenario.

"You also want to make sure interns are not limited in scope. Give them as much responsibility as you can get away with in the organization. A good way to do this is to find projects where potential mistakes won't be seen as a huge loss, but success can immediately provide huge value to company," says Goyal.

Capitalize on limited time

Interns won't be with the team forever, and some might be there only one or two days a week, while other interns might be in the office full-time for a semester. Make sure you have a clear understanding of each intern's schedule before he or she starts and then take some time to figure out what projects can work within those parameters. Rather than waiting until their first day to throw some assignments at them, have a plan in place ahead of time. Meet with relevant team members and ask what they need help on or if they have projects they think will be beneficial for the internship program. You'll probably end up with more work for the interns than they can even get to during their internship.


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