Nov. 20, 2020

Computer science student 'transformed' by work internship

Faculty of Science’s new program offers full-time work experience

Shardar Quraishi did some basic computer work for his father’s and uncle’s businesses in his home country of Bangladesh, before becoming an international student studying computer science at the University of Calgary.

But he says his real-world learning only started when, after completing his third year of a computer science degree, he secured a Faculty of Science undergraduate student internship. Now he’s working full-time as a programmer, developing digital business solutions for energy infrastructure company TC Energy in Calgary.

“I wanted to learn more and use my in-school knowledge to make a real work difference and get the experience,” Quraishi says.

The new science internship program, approved in June last year and officially launched this September in UCalgary’s academic calendar, currently has 88 students working with employers.

“The response has been phenomenal, especially considering the economic challenges with the COVID situation,” says Nancy Chibry, associate dean, undergraduate programs and student affairs, in the Faculty of Science.

The program offers science students the opportunity to participate in eight to 16 months of paid, full-time, consecutive work experience. Students who successfully complete the program receive a Science Internship Designation on their academic transcript and degree parchment.

“Our internship program allows students to integrate work experience into their degree, to establish a professional network and to explore possible career paths,” Chibry says.

The program also enables companies and other organizations to assess potential future employees, while providing students with valuable work references when they graduate, says Chibry.

Quraishi at work during his internship at TC Energy.

Quraishi at work during his internship at TC Energy.

Courtesy Shardar Quraishi

Quraishi started at TC Energy in May and has been working remotely at home due to COVID-19. He says he's been able to work on projects that use a cloud computing service to digitize the company’s pipeline engineering drawings and other records.

“I’m surprised by how much I’m learning,” he says. “I did learn the basics at university and that helped me a lot. But at TC Energy, I’m learning things and getting to implement that. I can see the results of the implementation.”

Quraishi is a member of a rapid product development team led by his supervisor, Duane Patton.

“We like having people coming into the company who can bring us new perspectives, fresh ideas and also provide value,” Patton says. “Shardar is doing well and has really shown progression as he’s been working here.”

Internship now encompasses a diversity of disciplines

The Faculty of Science offered internship and co-operative learning programs for many years, but only in computer science and a couple of other disciplines. There was a clear demand from students and employers to increase the diversity of students across various science disciplines, Chibry says.

The Department of Computer Science still has the highest number of interns in the new science internship program. However, there are now interns working across 14 science disciplines, from actuarial science and astronomy and physics to mathematics and statistics.

Establishing a more diverse internship program is aligned with UCalgary’s goal of having 100 per cent of students participating in experiential learning opportunities.

The Science Internship Program also helps meet the goals of UCalgary’s Unstoppable: Growth Through Focus plan, especially the aim of fostering more and deeper community and industry partnerships.

“We’re helping to build relationships between the community and our students, where both the employer and the students benefit,” Chibry says. “It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”

Nancy Chibry

Nancy Chibry is the associate dean, undergraduate programs and student affairs for the Faculty of Science.

Adrian Shellard, for the Faculty of Science

During their work term, Faculty of Science internship students are enrolled in online career courses to develop their professional skills alongside their technical skills. This also enables them to maintain full-time student status, including student loans and benefits such as housing and health and dental insurance.

Internship co-ordinators carefully screen the jobs offered to ensure they offer quality opportunities for growth and mentorship, Chibry notes. “We want the students to be part of projects and contributing to the company.”

Many undergraduates return from their work term to their final academic term with “a different mindset,” she adds. Some discover what they really enjoy doing and change their degree concentration focus. “And we’ve had a few students who’ve had job offers even before they received their degree.”

Quraishi’s internship with TC Energy was originally set to end this December. But he’s so pleased with his work term that he got his internship extended to April next year.

His real-world work experience has transformed him into a different, more confident person, he says. “An internship takes you to a new level as a student. This internship program really does change it all for you.”