Nov. 26, 2018

Graduate students and employers honoured for internship excellence at Nov. 14 event

'It's a great way for the university to build important connections with the community,' says Grad Studies dean Lisa Young
Recent graduate of the master's program in mathematics and statistics, Yue Xu, centre, won the GREATintern Award. Xu’s supervisor Man-Wai Chu, left,  and Lisa Young, vice-provost and dean, graduate studies, join Xu on stage.
Recent mathematics and statistics master's program graduate, Yue Xu, won the GREATintern Award. Dan Ferguson, Faculty of Graduate Studies

Graduate school is a journey for the brave, figuratively and literally. Many students cross an ocean to a foreign country, finding themselves speaking a foreign tongue and working full-time at learning the customs of their adopted culture.

For international grad students like Yue Xu and Soheila Karimi, starting a career in Canada can feel like another kind of ocean crossing. Graduate internships offer a means of passage, keeping students afloat as they navigate the waters of Canada’s job market and workplaces.

Interns honoured at ceremony

Both Xu and Karimi were recognized for their achievements as interns at Invest In Your Future, a grad student career symposium held Nov. 14.

Xu, a new graduate of the master's program in mathematics and statistics, is the winner of this year’s GREATintern award. The award recognizes the outstanding performance of a student in the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ Transformative Talent Internship (TTI) program. Xu put her expertise in statistics to work in an internship with Alberta Education, where she provided key input on five projects.

“It was really good for me to experience a Canadian work setting,” says Xu. “I didn’t know much about education when I started, but my ability to work with big data sets can be applied in many contexts.”

Confident in her technical skills, Xu still felt a need to close a cultural gap she felt between herself and her Canadian counterparts. Originally from China, Xu hopes to establish a career in Calgary and is buoyed by newfound experience in a Canadian workplace.

“The internship created opportunities to collaborate. The teamwork was important; it gave me a chance to learn about work processes — for example, why a survey question might be worded the way it is.”

GREATintern Team award

Karimi, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering, interned as a trainee in power systems with BBA Engineering Ltd., a multidisciplinary engineering firm based in Calgary. The experience was so rewarding that Karimi nominated her supervisor, Haseeb Zarrar, for the GREATintern Supervisor award. The feeling was clearly mutual, as Zarrar also nominated Karimi for the GREATintern award. In response, the Faculty of Graduate Studies decided to acknowledge both with a GREATintern Team award.

Like Xu, Karimi finds the procedures used in the Canadian job market can present a learning curve. “In Canada, there’s a lot of emphasis on networking, and using online resources like LinkedIn. Career Services was very helpful, and with their support I was able to improve my resume and LinkedIn profile.

“It can be more challenging for international students to find internships, because they are typically only allowed to work up to 20 hours per week off-campus,” says Karimi, who is originally from Iran. “Becoming a permanent resident helps, because it lets you work full-time.”

PhD candidate Soheila Karimi and Haseeb Zarrar, P.Eng (BBA consulting) won the GREATintern Team Award.

PhD candidate Soheila Karimi and Haseeb Zarrar P.Eng (BBA consulting) won the GREATintern Team Award

Exploring green energy

At BBA, Karimi found the opportunity to apply her training to green energy projects. “We worked on integrating wind-generated energy into Alberta’s existing transmission network line infrastructure,” explains Karimi. “Current practices impose limits on transmission levels, which makes adding wind energy generation challenging. However, the lines are capable of a higher capacity, and that’s what we were exploring.” Karimi also helped develop forecasting tools to predict line loads.

Karimi is the second grad intern hired by BBA. Zarrar extols the virtues of the program: “Grad students bring new thought into the business culture. They bring a perspective infused with current research and technology. This is very important for an organization staying innovative in the future.”

Grad internships benefit students and employers

Dr. Lisa Young, vice-provost and dean of graduate studies, presented the GREATintern awards at the Nov. 14 event.

“Graduate skills internships are a win for everyone. They provide both Canadian and international students with important hands-on experience as they prepare to transition out of grad school,” says Young. “They also help employers understand the advanced skills and work ethic that grad students bring to the table. It’s a great way for the university to build important connections with the community.”

Next steps

Both Karimi and Xu are looking forward to next steps that have opened up to them through their internships. Xu is excited to start a new role with the Calgary Board of Education, and Karimi is confident about her local employment prospects after submitting her dissertation in early 2019.

In addition to Xu, Karimi and Zarrar, Jonathan Perkins of TEDxCalgary won the GREATintern Supervisor award for 2018. Perkins was nominated by his intern Yangyang Fang, a PhD candidate in community health sciences.

The Transformative Talent Internship program is available to Canadian / permanent resident and international grad students, and is administered by My GradSkills in the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

The event provided a networking opportunity for students and employers.

The event provided a networking opportunity for students and employers.