Research Internships for Science Undergraduates

It’s almost a rite of passage for the current day for undergraduate students to do a summer internship for at least their last two years of study.

As international students we may have the slight disadvantage of not having any connections in the industry for us to land an internship – we often require more effort and time compared to that required by a domestic student.

However, QUT has in place a Vacation Research Scheme (VRES) for which all QUT students can apply! You will usually get an email in your second semester giving you more details about the VRES projects available and the supervisors in charge of each project.

The projects are categorised by school so it is easier to find a project that suits your interests and academic field. I come under the School of Earth, Environmental and Biological Sciences, so I skipped over all the other projects to look at the projects listed under this school because they would be more relevant to me.

You are required to choose and nominate three projects that interest you, in order of preference. You must email the supervisors of each of the three projects and meet up with them beforehand. This allows you to show interest in the respective project and to also get to know about the nitty-gritty of the projects. After your chats with them, your order of preference may change. So this needs to be done before you submit the application.

As per usual you need to state why you want to take part in VRES. As places are limited, the entry to this is very competitive. The supervisors have high expectations of the students who do get into VRES, and you get paid for each week of research you do.

In general, it is rather uncommon for a first year to get in, although you’re more than welcome to apply. Most supervisors prefer students from the second year and upwards due to the simple fact that by the end of the second year, you would have more knowledge and experience in the field, so the project would be more beneficial to you. However, a few first year students do get into VRES each year, so don’t let that discourage you from applying.

Read the details early on so that you can organise a time to meet up with the supervisor easily, because they tend to be very busy and often don’t have time to see you on short notice.

Keep in mind, this is just one of many opportunities that will come your way. Check in other places such as Engineers without Borders and CSIRO for other internships that maybe available to you. VRES is really good place to start looking, because it is from QUT itself.

Brisbane, a safe place to be

As long as I have been studying in Brisbane (over 7 years), I have never ever felt threatened and most of my international acquaintances would agree.

While studying, I have been working in hospitality for multiple different reasons:

  • my first job experience, no specific qualification required at first
  • really flexible
  • depending on the workplace you can get really good tips, which is really good extra money.

There are always a position available somewhere.


Source: Adeline Martin. Bartender at Mr & Ms G, River Side.

I have been making coffee really early in the morning forcing me to walk the streets at 5am; to making cocktails at night in some of the busiest nightclub areas in Brisbane, finishing work at 4am.

Locals would consider those times dangerous. And most of the time my international co-worker and I would explain to them what dangerous is.

Not once in all this time spent in Brisbane I had any issues: no stalker, no insult, some drunk people through the weekends but if you are careful and no provocation, I do not see a reason for bad things to happen.

IMG_5326 IMG_5364

Source: Adeline Martin. Walking home from Fortutide Valley to the City and New Farm

And depending where you work and where you go, some of the night sites are just amazing!


Source: Adeline Martin. Casino lights from South Bank.


Source: Adeline Martin. Working in South Bank.

I lived everywhere in Brisbane, my favorite walk home is along riverside with really nice scenery! How could you miss that?!


Source: Adeline Martin. River Side walk with the Story Bridge view.

Working in hospitality in Australia


A cappuccino made by myself

In Australia, it is really common for university students to work in hospitality and retail. However in China, most of university students focus more on study and doing professional internship.

For a lot of international students coming from developing countries, the living expense here is very high. So they start working part-time to make some money and cover their living expenses. The hospitality and retail industry is where most international students choose to work.

I tried my luck to find a job just by dropping my resume to local cafes and was called for training after several days. Having no experience in hospitality before, let alone making coffee, I started my job by taking coffees to customers. Watching my co-worker, Sarah, making coffee, I started trying to make different kinds of coffee as well. Through continuing practice, I can pretty much make all kinds of coffee after 2 weeks. Yes! Practice makes perfect.


My co-workers in a local cafe. Bengu, Suzy, Sarah and me!

Though it’s rewarding to make customers happy, challenges are always there in hospitality. Customers are always first even if sometimes you are sick and don’t really want to talk. How to immediately fix a mistake when you do something wrong is not that simple. And starting a conversation with customers always makes me, an introvert, feel nervous.

All in all, I learnt a lot by working in hospitality. My confidence and communication skills definitely improved out of it. I can say it’s always a good experience to do something different in another country!


Aubrey as a waitress in the grand opening night

How to find an internship as an international student

One month ago, I was offered a paid internship as a tax accountant for two months during the tax season ( July to August). I was literally too happy I burst out crying when I got the phone call. If you are an international student as well, I’m sure you can understand why I feel this way. I know a lot of international students are struggling in finding an internship, so hope some of the tips I write in this blog can help.


First let’s identify some difficulties when finding an internship for international students, taking me as an example:

• Language barrier

This obviously is a huge obstacle for me who have lived in China for most of my life. Coming to Australia last year and haven’t studied overseas before, I find it very hard when doing group discussion with domestic students and clearly conveying my thoughts.

• A lack of local working experience

When I started job seeking in October last year, most of my working/volunteering experience on my resume happened in Shanghai. I only put down one local volunteer experience (Robotronica @ QUT). This made me very unconfident as most companies value local experience.

• Unmatched information

This can be a lack of knowledge about resume format & recruitment process (it’s different from your home country), networking awkwardness (I have never attended any networking events before coming to Australia) and not taking good use of QUT Career Hub (which turns out to be extremely useful for me ).

Though these obstacles are very daunting, don’t let them define us and be positive! At the end of the day, you can totally overcome these difficulties. Yes, I guarantee! The following is what I did to improve myself and gradually be more and more confident as a job-seeker.

1. Start being active in uni

Join one or two clubs and get engaged with uni activities (aka connector, global cafe, LDI). I’m sure you want to build up your confidence and be a better communicator. Attending extra-curricula workshops is a good way to learn how to do team work and speak up your ideas. In addition, you can also meet people and expand your network.

2.Have a Linkedin profile and learn from other people’s career path

One of the things I often do is to check other people’s career path on Linkedin. It’s not stalking others (though my friends always say I like stalking people on Linkedin) but through reading other people’s work experience, you can see how they ended up getting a good graduate job. Some people may have great GPA, others, while not showing their GPA on Linkedin, have already got two or three major-related work experience before graduation.

3.Start volunteering, this will lead to a paid role eventually

Before I got this paid position, I have done lots of unpaid work ranging from being a QUT Connector in orientation week, being an executive in a uni club to volunteering outside uni in a non-for-profit for 7 months. This process is mainly about building up local work experience and get an idea of how it is like to work in Australian office environment.

4.Take good use of QUT Career and Employment resources

I attended lots of workshops hosted by QUT Career and Employment, most of them are extremely useful. If you want me to recommend you one or two workshops, I’ll definitely say: go for resume, cover letter and interview workshops, career counsellors will help you polish your skills.

5.Stay positive even though you get rejections

I know it’s very frustrating to be rejected. I have been rejected more than 20 times before getting this internship. Also I failed 3 interviews this semester out of 4 interviews. But that’s okay! You know what, one of my friends who’s also an international student applied for 60 positions on Seek, got lots of rejections but ended up getting a job eventually. So be positive and never give up.

6.Check Career Hub everyday and start applying

Why Career Hub is way better than Seek? Because most of the jobs on Career Hub is only targeted at QUT students  and only need entry-level experience while the job ads on Seek are available to everyone all over Australia and usually require many years of experience. So your chance of being successful is much higher. Everyday you will find new jobs posted on Career Hub as well. For me, both of the two positions I got so far were from Career Hub. So there you go, check it everyday and start applying!

Just found I have been talking a lot haha. Okay peace out and good luck! I’d like to hear back your good news.