How to Negotiate for a ‘Yes’ from Your Advisor

Weill Hall

How to Negotiate for a ‘Yes’ from Your Advisor for an Internship Opportunity

If you are a postdoctoral fellow in the experimental biology field, you know how challenging it is to get your PI’s approval on an internship outside your lab. It is challenging, but not impossible. Here are some tips that can help you get the “yes” from your advisor.

Plan Ahead of Time

Needless to say, you need time to search for the internship opportunities and complete your application before the deadline if there is one. What is usually forgotten or underestimated is the length of time between you first mentioning the internship to your advisor and he/she giving you the approval. Therefore, make sure you start planning as early as possible.

Gather as Much Information as Possible About the Internship Before Talking to Your Advisor

The more information you gather, the better decision you will make on whether doing the internship is a good use of your time. Your PI will also inquire about the time and efforts involved in the application and completion of the internship so he/she can decide whether there would be a conflict with your current lab work. Additionally, knowing all the details about the internship shows your advisor that you have given a very careful thought before asking for his/her permission.

Make an Effort to Explain how the Internship is Beneficial not Only to You but Also to the Lab

It is not that difficult to explain to your advisor what you will get out of the opportunity which is not necessarily a strong argument for winning their support. However, if you can explain how the lab can benefit from your internship experience, you will significantly increase your chance of getting a yes from your advisor. For example, if you are interested in some teaching-related internship, the experience will not only help you mentor the junior lab members but also attract young talents to the lab. It is not always obvious what the lab can get out of your internship experience. That’s why you need to make sure your advisor is fully aware of what you can do for the lab with what you learn from your internship.

Give Your Advisor Enough Time to Make the Decision, but Make Sure to Set a Timeline

Your advisor may not give you a definitive answer immediately. Instead, he/she may tell you that he/she would like to talk about this “later” with you. Instead of ending the conversation right there, you need to make sure both you and your advisor agree on a particular time (e.g. “in four weeks” or “at the beginning of the new semester”) when you can get an official answer from him/her. Setting up and following a timeline is crucial whether you have an application deadline to meet or not.

What if They Say No?

Does your advisor say no because he/she has something of a much higher priority on his/her mind that he/she needs you to finish first? If that’s the case, try to work out a list of tasks with your advisor who agrees to grant his/her approval of your internship application upon the completion of those tasks.

Of course, all of the tips above will only work well if your advisor already has trust in your work ethic. While the tips will make the communication more efficient, a good track record of productivity in the lab is really your best leverage in such kind of negotiation. Good luck!

–by Jin Liang, Postdoc in the Weill Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology