The Science Internship Program (SIP, formerly the Industrial Internship Program) celebrates 20 years of placing students in relevant work experiences during their undergraduate years. Hear from five internship alumni on how this experience made a difference in their careers.
Eddie Chan ’06 BSc (Computing Science)
Internship › IBM Canada
Currently › Software Engineer, Elastic Path Software, Vancouver
As a technical consultant at a leading e-commerce company, Eddie Chan has had the privilege of advising some of the biggest brands in the world for their online commerce solutions. However, his first foray into the industry came when he was selected to join 300 other interns from across the country at IBM Canada in Markham, Ontario while completing his undergraduate science degree.
“It was the first time I got to work on something that would be used by real users and people outside of the classroom,” says Chan. “What happens if you make a mistake? On a lab assignment you simply lose marks; in the real-world, you need to fix, communicate, and deliver a solution to your users. There are fewer shortcuts in the real world.”
Chan was also exposed to working with others on a team committed to the same goal, a refreshing experience that often brought to light the importance of cooperation between teammates with different roles, different levels of experience, different personalities, and even different motivations.
“I’d like to say that I’m close to where I planned to be, but I didn’t really plan very much at all in university,” comments Chan. “In hindsight, I was too focused on the immediate challenges like the next assignment and next exam. I didn’t think about my future very much.”
For Edmonton-born Chan, moving away for the internship forced him to be on his own away from home and make new friends. Managing it all gave him the confidence and desire to seek out even more challenges, like moving to Vancouver after graduating to start a career in a new city.
“I have many fond memories and friendships from my time in Markham,” he says. “One of those friends lives in Vancouver, which helped make my relocation after graduation a softer landing.”
Chan now enjoys business trips that allow him to experience different parts of the world and work with teams from a variety of different cultures and backgrounds. He stresses the importance of students focusing on not only getting the job done, but also making friends and pushing themselves to learn new things. “You probably won’t remember every day-to-day thing you do” he remarks, “but you will remember the relationships and experiences you have during your internship.”
Susan Elia ’05 BSc (Geology)
Internship › Suncor Energy
Currently › Geologist, Husky Energy, Calgary
Susan Elia's career journey wasn't without its initial bumps. She began her studies at the U of A as an undergrad in chemistry. “I was a horrible chemist but would have been a great lab tech.” After taking an introductory geology course, she completed her first BSc with a major in earth sciences and a double minor in chemistry and anthropology. She followed this with a BSc after-degree, specializing in geology.
“During my after-degree, an opportunity came up in the internship program with Suncor Energy. I applied and was successful,” said Elia. “I lived in Fort McMurray for that year, and it was a great experience both personally and professionally. It was a year of great growth.”
Elia credits her success in the industry to gaining invaluable work experience while still an undergraduate. “It was the exposure to the oil sands in Fort McMurray (work experience) that helped elevate my candidacy above others in the initial screening/hiring process,” she says. “I had exposure to the working field, the working culture, and office environment. As a result, I understood the expectations of a working professional.”
She encourages all of today’s students to apply for the internship program. “It will open doors and opportunities you didn’t know were available and create networks for getting a job once you graduate.”
Tracy Cordner ’05 BSc (Psychology)
Internship › Instructional Technology Lab, Dept. of Psychology, University of Alberta
Currently › Instructional Designer, Education Department Centre, Massachusetts
Tracy Cordner's decision to apply to the internship program was a purely practical one. “Honestly, I was really short on cash,” she said. “I wasn’t going to be able to afford my next year of studies.”
She landed herself a spot in the Instructional Technology Lab in the Department of Psychology, under the watchful eye of Connie Varnhagen (who would later go on to receive a 3M National Teaching Fellowship).
“Connie sent me to all kinds of events and let me mingle with all kinds of professionals,” recalls Cordner. “She involved me in many publications and presentations, which enabled me to have enough professional experience to be considered for my master’s program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I am really indebted to her.”
Since graduating from Harvard, where she studied technology in learning, Cordner has taken part in a variety of creative learning initiatives. Now with the Learning and Teaching Division of EDC (Educational Development Centre)—a company that designs,
implements, and evaluates programs to improve education, health, and economic opportunity worldwide— she collaborates on curriculum development, inquiry-based teaching, and online mathematics professional development. She has also helped develop online applications designed to help students deepen their learning in many subject areas, including math, psychology, and critical thinking. She was runner-up in the Joan Ganz Cooney 2010 Literacy Challenge for a digital application known as The Electric Brain.
“I just finished my first mathematics curriculum— Transition to Algebra—that just won an award, and there is an accompanying book called Making Sense of Algebra that a lot of people are really excited about,” she says.
“I’m working on an innovative online professional development project right now called eCMI.” With funding from the National Science Foundation, eCMI (Electronic Communities for Mathematics Instruction) engages groups of teachers in compelling mathematics through video conferencing and social media.
Cordner’s advice for today’s students considering the internship program? “Do it. Absolutely do it.”
Kyle Fougere ’05 BSc (Atmospheric Sciences)
Internship › Environment Canada
Currently › Meteorologist for Environment Canada, Edmonton
When Kyle Fourgere started as an intern with Environment Canada more than 12 years ago, he set his sights on the position held by his supervisor as his dream job. Eight years following his graduation with a BSc, Fougere fulfilled that dream, becoming the head of the Severe Weather Program at the Prairie and Arctic Storm Prediction Centre in Edmonton.
“The internship played a huge role in landing my job out of university,” comments Fougere. “I learned a lot about the weather and weather forecasting while completing my internship, and I got to know the people who would be interviewing me for a job after completing my degree. Without the knowledge I gained while completing my internship, I really don’t know if I would have been able to get a job at Environment Canada after graduation.”
Fougere stresses the importance of finding people whose work you admire and trying to emulate their good habits. Talking to them about how they achieved their success and learning their habits can make it easier to create your own successes.
After years in the field, Fougere sees how hiring student interns “creates a pipeline of qualified candi-dates who can then be hired after graduation. It is also a cost effective way to complete work that can be done by someone without a lot of experience in the field.” He also attests firsthand how graduating with relevant work experience can increase your job prospects after university.
Lindsay Kalan ’06 BSc (Biological Sciences)
Internship › Banner Pharmacaps
Currently › Head of Research & Development, Exciton Technologies Inc., Edmonton
As the head of the research and development group for Exciton Technologies Inc., an Edmonton-based wound-care company focused on the creation of technologies for preventing and controlling infection, Lindsay Kalan witnesses every day how basic science can be translated to new products and innovations.
“I wanted to pursue research in the field of infectious disease,” she comments, “specifically with a focus on development of novel antimicrobials that can combat antibiotic resistant organisms.”
During her undergraduate internship, Kalan landed a spot at Banner Pharmacaps in Olds, Alberta. “I learned new laboratory skills, but the most important thing I gained was the ability to communicate and work on a team,” remarks Kalan. “I had to organize my own time in the lab and communicate with different departments effectively.”
"You can't predict where your career will take you. It is important to keep an open mind."
She credits the lab experience she gained in both the internship and post-graduate research job as instrumental in allowing her to jump right into her thesis research in biochemistry at McMaster University.
She also credits the education she received at the U of A as an undergrad. “The education is second to none,” comments Kalan. “My program had more lab-based courses than similar departments at other universities, giving students much needed hands-on experience.”
Kalan is still in touch with people she worked with during her placement. Having that network allows her to stay connected with the science community in Alberta.
“I think one of the most important things I’ve learned is that you can’t predict where your career will take you and that it is important to keep an open mind,” she notes.
“At the time I applied [to the internship program], I never imagined I would end up where I am now. In addition to having a good resume, I have learned that forming and maintaining strong relationships with colleagues, mentors, and contacts is just as important to exploring career opportunities.”
The Science Internship Program integrates undergraduate university studies with relevant, paid work experience while providing employers with knowledgeable and highly-motivated students who are well-prepared to contribute to their organizations. SIP is now welcoming job postings from employers interested in hiring undergraduate student interns. Students are available for 4, 8, 12, or 16 month paid positions starting in January, May, or September.