My Experience as an Intern with the University Living Lab

by | Jan 27, 2023 | Student engagement, Student partnership

Heading towards the end of my second year as an undergraduate, I knew I wanted to make the most of my summer by finding an internship role that offered the opportunity to gain meaningful experience and grow beyond my regular degree learning. However, as a student interested in the politics of climate change, thought-provoking positions weren’t easy to come by – most seemed to be very corporate-minded or STEM-oriented. 



The Living Lab

When I found the SEI programme, I was excited to be able to apply to internships that were more aligned with the areas I wanted to pursue. From publishing to anthropology, there was a fantastic range of opportunities on offer. The perfect fit for me, though, was when I found a role as a research intern for the Living Lab – right here at the University of Manchester.  

It took me a little bit of time to get my head around what Dr. Jen O’Brien was working on through the University Living Lab. Although I was quick to understand the concept itself, I couldn’t figure out why nobody had thought of it before! 

Simply put, the Living Lab is a way for students to effect positive change as part of their degree. As a politics and history student, I’ve spent countless hours researching and writing about different essay topics for my course assessments. Some have been really interesting – others less so – but all have involved plenty of time and effort, only to end up on a forgotten Blackboard page, gathering virtual dust. 

 Making A Difference

What the Living Lab does is take all that research time and effort – which we’d have done anyway – and directs it towards something that could really make a difference. On the ULL website, there are over a hundred projects set by organisations from across the globe. All of these projects are real issues facing organisations dealing with the challenges of sustainable development. They range from measuring air pollution along Oxford Road, to combatting COVID misinformation in Uganda, and everything in between. 

Students can access the project database and adapt any project to their own learning by moulding it to their particular disciplinary approach. This isn’t an extracurricular activity or additional task to take on in the midst of a busy academic schedule – students undertake the projects as part of their degree learning by using them as case studies or research areas for their module assessments.  

 A Fresh Perspective

When a student completes their project report, it is then sent back to the organisation for feedback – and this is where the Living Lab can have a real impact. Not only do we have near limitless amounts of research time, but students can also offer new and unconsidered perspectives on sustainability issues that can lead to genuine change to organisations at the forefront of sustainable research.  

Student reports from the Living Lab have led to changes in policy direction, resource allocation and strategy development. Instead of sitting forgotten in an online folder, student assignments can harness their potential to make a difference and generate change. Organisations have even offered full-time work to students following the success of their reports. 

 What the Living Lab meant for me

My role as an intern at the Living Lab has involved a range of tasks that have enabled me to gain an understanding of the inner workings of sustainable organisations and the skills needed to achieve a career in the humanities. A lot of my work has been centred around outreach, which involves working with organisations to create projects that target the challenges they face. 

Working with the Living Lab has been a fantastic experience for me as I’m really keen to explore sustainable careers when I finish my degree. The opportunity to work closely with environmentally-conscious organisations through this internship has helped to open my eyes to plenty of potential career paths.  

I’m excited to play a part in making the Living Lab a fantastic resource for students like me. I think it has the potential to become an intrinsic part of the assessment process for many subject areas. In the coming weeks, we’re aiming to expand the reach of the lab by continuing to connect with academics, organisations and students who share our outlook. 

As a whole, working with the Living Lab through the SEI programme has been the ideal way to make the most of my second-year summer. I’m really looking forward to utilising the Living Lab as a tool for my own academic development in third year, and going on to explore career paths in sustainable development following the conclusion of my studies here. 

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