Fellowship vs Internship: Difference Between a Fellowship and an Internship

Both fellowship and internship offer unique opportunities and challenges, tailored to different stages of one’s career journey. How are they different from each other?

Internships are entry-level, short-term roles for undergraduates to gain practical experience, often with flexible commitments and varying pay. Fellowships, aimed at graduates or post-graduates, offer specialized, in-depth focus on projects or research with stipends

Fellowships often require more commitment and significantly impacting career paths. Choosing between them depends on your career stage, goals, and experience.

This article delves into the nuanced distinctions between internships and fellowships, from the required experience and commitment to the impact on your career trajectory.

Whether you’re a budding professional or a seasoned expert looking to deepen your expertise, understanding these differences is key to making an informed decision that aligns with your goals.

Purpose And Scope

Internships and fellowships pave distinct paths for professional development. An internship often serves as the first step on the career ladder.

Many internships are designed for undergraduate students, eager to translate theoretical knowledge into practical skills. The type of internship you choose could range from a:

  • summer stint at a local business,
  • shadowing a skilled technician such as a welder, to
  • a highly competitive program in a multinational corporation.

Fellowships are great for those further along their academic journey, typically graduate or post-graduate students. These programs are more about honing in on a specific project or area of research within your field of study.

A research fellowship might allow you to propose a specific project, requiring you to submit a detailed cover letter and research proposal as part of the application process.

Duration And Commitment Required

The duration and commitment required for internships and fellowships reveal stark contrasts. Internships, often tailored for undergraduate students, can span from a brief summer stint to a semester-long engagement.

These opportunities are crafted to fit into an academic calendar, allowing you to gain hands-on experience without disrupting your studies.

For many internships, the commitment can be as flexible as a part-time job, with some even offering the chance to earn college credit.

Fellowships, however, demand a deeper dive. Designed predominantly for graduate or post-graduate students, these programs can extend from a few months to multiple years.

This extended period allows fellows to immerse themselves in their project or research, contributing significantly to their professional development.

Some highly competitive fellowship programs, especially those in specialised fields, may require fellows to dedicate a significant portion of their time, akin to a full-time job.

This commitment reflects the intensity and depth of the work involved, often culminating in a substantial contribution to their field of study.

Salary And Remuneration

Navigating the financial aspects of internships and fellowships can feel like a maze. Internships vary widely when it comes to remuneration. You might find yourself in an unpaid internship, especially in sectors where the experience is highly sought after.

However, many internships also offer hourly wages, acknowledging the work and contribution of the intern. It’s not uncommon for tech companies or finance firms to provide competitive salaries, even for interns, recognising the value of fresh perspectives and hard work.

Fellowships, on the other hand, usually come with a stipend. This stipend is not merely a salary but a form of support that allows you to focus on your fellowship project or research.

For post-graduate students, this can be a game-changer. It means you can dive deep into your subject area without the distraction of financial worries.

Some fellowship programs, especially those funded by prestigious institutions or foundations, offer stipends that rival professional salaries, reflecting the significant contributions fellows are expected to make in their fields.

The insider tip? While internships might offer immediate financial reward, fellowships invest in your long-term professional development.

Whether it’s a research fellowship in climate science or a public policy fellowship, the stipend you receive is just part of the package. The real value lies in the professional growth, networking opportunities, and the chance to make an impact in your chosen field.

Experience Required

Internships are typically entry-level opportunities, welcoming you with little to no experience in your field of study.

They’re designed to teach you the ropes, offering a blend of learning and work that’s invaluable for students or recent graduates.

For example, an undergraduate student in graphic design might land an internship at a creative agency, where the most significant requirement is a portfolio showcasing potential rather than experience.

Fellowships, however, cater to a more seasoned crowd. These opportunities are for those who have already dipped their toes into the professional world or academia. 

Post-graduate students or professionals with a clear career path often pursue fellowships to deepen their expertise.

For instance, a fellowship in public health might require applicants to have a master’s degree and some field experience.

The application process for fellowships is also highly competitive, involving a detailed cover letter, a proposal for a specific project, and evidence of prior achievements in the subject area.

The distinction is clear: while internships open the door to the professional world, fellowships require you to have already crossed that threshold.

Impact To Career

The impact of internships and fellowships on your career can be profound, yet in markedly different ways.

Internships are often the first step into the professional world. They offer a glimpse into the day-to-day workings of your chosen field and can significantly enhance your resume.

For many students and recent graduates, an internship—or two—can be the bridge between academic theory and real-world application. They not only provide valuable work experience but can also lead to job offers from the host company or others within the industry.

Fellowships, with their focus on professional development and specialised projects, can catapult your career to new heights.

For post-graduate students or those already on a specific career path, fellowships offer the chance to dive deep into a subject area, often contributing meaningful research or innovations.

This level of engagement can establish you as an expert in your field, opening doors to advanced positions and leadership roles. Moreover, the networking opportunities within fellowship programs can connect you with influential figures and peers who share your interests and ambitions.

While internships may lay the groundwork for your career, fellowships have the potential to define it. Whether you’re just starting out or aiming to advance in your field, the choice between pursuing an internship or a fellowship could be a pivotal decision in shaping your professional journey.

Fellowship vs Internship

The choice between an internship and a fellowship hinges on your current educational status, career aspirations, and the level of experience you bring to the table.

Internships offer a stepping stone for beginners, laying the foundational skills necessary for a burgeoning career, while fellowships provide a deeper, more focused dive into specialised areas for those further along in their professional journey.

Understanding these core differences enables you to strategically choose the path that best supports your long-term career objectives and fosters your growth.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.