Jan. 11, 2021

Calling all grad students: Make experiential learning work for you

How to successfully find and complete a Transformative Talent Internship
winter scene on campus
New Year, New Skills Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

As we start a new year, the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) encourages graduate students to expand their professional network, gain hands-on work experience, improve job search skills, learn the unwritten rules of workplace culture and explore career interests. A great way to do so is by completing a Transformative Talent Internship (TTI) — a program that gives grad students the opportunity to include work-integrated learning on their transcripts. Eligible students may receive additional funding and a monetary award for completing their internship.

Stephanie Warner, Liliana Gonzalez and Mathew Geddes, experts from Career Services, shared the following tips and best practices to help you prepare:

Securing an Internship

  1. Start early. Finding the right internship will take time. Consider what kinds of industries and internships appeal to you and start crafting your resume or CV and cover letters for those roles. Check out Career Services’ online resume tool if you need help.
  2. Be proactive and network. Job boards are a great way to find internships, but seeking out your own opportunities may open additional doors. Try setting up an informational interview with a company that interests you and where you believe your skills and work style would be a good fit. Fostering professional relationships may not lead immediately to a job but learning more about what companies are looking for in your field of choice can clarify career aspirations and enhance future applications. Your graduate supervisor may also have unique insights about your industry of choice and may be willing to help you widen your professional network with their colleagues.
  3. Bigger does not always mean better. Many students may be tempted to only look at internships at big companies, but smaller businesses can also benefit from graduate student skills and provide an avenue for professional growth. You may also be eligible for a salary top-up. Learn more.
  4. Do your research. If you land an interview or even an informational interview, be prepared. Although an internship is an excellent opportunity for you to grow, focus on what you can provide the company. Speak to your skills and experience in a way that’s relevant to the employer. Think “how can I help them solve their problem?” To do that, you need to do a bit of research on common problems and skills required for that industry.

Completing your internship

  1. Set your goals and maintain a daily journal: You wanted this internship for a reason. Write down what you would like to achieve and keep yourself accountable by engaging in ongoing reflection on what you have learned and experienced. Also document your experiences weekly – what new things did you work on; how did you handle a unique situation; what successes did you have in the week? This can help build your resume and give ideas for answers to future interview questions.
  2. More networking: Build relationships with the people you work with. Strive to learn as much as you can from your experiences and the experience of others. Ask about their career paths and try to understand the company’s goals and challenges. If there is a social event, attend it.
  3. Be flexible and adaptive: Academic and industry expectations may not be the same, such as timelines and how people communicate. Being flexible will allow your colleagues and supervisors to see that you are a hard worker and able to adapt and grow with the company.
  4. Take initiative and share your great ideas: Ask questions and be eager to learn and contribute to the organization’s vision and mission. When you are stuck, brainstorm potential solutions and bring them to your employer. If you see something that can be improved, offer a new perspective rather than criticize how things are done..

Learn from your peers

According to Stephen Machua, a Master of Public Policy student who interned with Alinea International as a governance project analyst last year, you should “never underrate your small idea. It could be the biggest solution the company has been waiting for.”

Machua took his “small idea” and made a presentation on Digital Innovations for Development to the management team, inspiring the organization to develop monthly internal learning webinars curated around emerging and contemporary issues. Although his internship is over, he successfully widened his professional network and is still being mentored by his old colleagues.

Zach McKendrick on his TTI experience

Drama PhD student Zach McKendrick shares insight about his experience completing a TTI with the Shaw Theatre Festival in Ontario.

Learn more about the Transformative Talent internship, including eligibility requirements and the application process. If you need help with your job search, resume or cover letter, Career Services is there to help.