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A PhD Intern’s Experience at Geollect

by Matthew Marshall

After years of battling temperamental lab equipment and cleaning what seemed like an endless supply of glassware, I was ready to try something a little different. When details of an internship at a geospatial maritime intelligence company, Geollect, were circulated by my PhD funders, I jumped at the chance. This wasn’t an industry that I knew much – if anything! – about and I wasn’t necessarily the sort of candidate that, on paper, they had had in mind. But its appeal for me was precisely because it was a completely unfamiliar field; something new for me to get stuck into. And much to my surprise, Geollect also looked upon the internship as an opportunity to experiment – they could gain a fresh perspective from someone with a completely different background (biogeochemistry, in case you’re interested!) and see what I could offer to them.

When I started at Geollect, I was very quickly welcomed into a growing team of programmers, front-end developers and GIS analysts. As with all new jobs, the first day involved learning new jargon and trying to understand the industry context for the business. In other settings I might have felt intimidated due to my different skill set and lack of experience, but this very friendly group were keen to welcome me and ensure that I felt part of the team. I was tasked with kick-starting the initial stage of a much longer-term project, which aims to develop new ways of flagging unusual shipping activity based on an analysis of historical trends. This really put my data-crunching skills to the test – analysing datasets that were far larger than anything I had previously handled. This presented its own difficulties but regular conservations with my team’s manager helped me to work out how to refine the focus of the research and keep making progress.

Two months isn’t very long but you can learn a lot in a such a short space of time. I am now aware of some of the challenges in the maritime industry related to vessel tracking and, in particular, the difficulties involved in filtering out suspicious shipping activity from a vast quantity of data. It also opened my eyes as to how one company can draw upon the skills of many individuals to create products that help to solve some of these challenges. A particular highlight of the internship for me was being surrounded by people who were working on so many different things, and different components of the same project which were all brought together into a single product – against challenging deadlines.

Overall I would say that internships are a great opportunity to experiment – experience working in an industry you’ve never heard of, test your skills in a completely new field and you may surprise yourself with what you’re able to do. I’d encourage any other PhD student (beleaguered or otherwise) to take advantage of similar opportunities that come their way. It may be start of something completely new.