Graduate internship program expands possibilities for students, employers

"It's broken the stereotype of what an internship is for me."

Tevfik Kuloglu always assumed that as a PhD candidate, his only employment prospect was in academia. But after doing an internship at Clark Ecoscience, the forest management and planning student is excited about several career options.

"I may still go into academia, but not yet-there are too many exciting possibilities. After this internship, I want to know how business works. I now know I can take the skills I learned and work in another field."

Kuloglu's experience is not unusual among the 170 graduate students who are either currently doing an internship or have completed one under the new Graduate Student Internship Program (GSIP) started 15 months ago.

The program, which has created 238 internships so far, provides opportunities for UAlberta graduate students to gain work experience through paid, meaningful internships in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors.

"It's broken the stereotype of what an internship is for me," said Wilissa Reist, a master's student in political science. "I just did a policy review for the City of Edmonton, looking at violence in the workplace, and to me that was the most advanced thing I had done in the workplace."

The program, based on a cost-matching funding model, is being built through active partnerships on and off campus.

For example, UAlberta's Integrative Health Institute has had 15 interns while the Sustainability Scholars program has hired 17 graduate students.

Off campus, the Institute of Public Administration Canada, for instance, recently created the Public Service Graduate program in which interns complete two 21-week placements in two of the following three orders of government: Indigenous relations, human resources and intergovernmental relations.

"They provide paid, part-time work experiences across all levels of government, and they're now available to our students," said Andrea Spevak, the GSIP advisor.

She said the feedback she's been receiving from employers has been overwhelmingly positive.

"Once they get a grad student intern, more often than not, they want another," she said.

Gabrielle Betts, director of the Violence against Women and Girls unit within the Ministry of Status of Women, thinks a huge benefit of the program is that it gives students an understanding of two different orders of government, which can help them decide which they prefer.

"I think that graduate students bring a wealth of expertise in terms of project management and research and analysis expertise," she said.

Sandra Gawad Gad, a PhD candidate in the rehabilitation medicine, is working as a researcher and policy analyst with Betts. Although she's in a science program, she is deeply interested in Indigenous and women's issues and is grateful for the opportunity to conduct this type of work, which is expanding her knowledge and experience.

The City of Edmonton, a strong participant of the program, is using it to expose students to various career options.

"We do see this as a potential recruitment opportunity," said Mike Chow, director of the City's Indigenous Relations Office, who hired Reist.

"She brought a high level of analysis to some of the things that we're just dipping our feet into. We've been blown away by the quality of her work. What she's working on now (violence in the workplace), she'll see the result of it in a year or two when she's working back at the university," said Chow.

The GISP is funded by the Government of Alberta and established by the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research and the U of A Career Centre.