April 25, 2018

Skills internships set graduate students on the road to career success

Transformative Talent Internships help graduate students connect with employers
University of Calgary mechanical engineering student Robert Crane is using a Transformative Talent Internship to advance cycling technology.
Mechanical engineering student Robert Crane is using a Transformative Talent Internship to advance c Robert Crane

Cycling is not always about beating the pack. In a time trial, an athlete pursues her or his own goals against a ticking clock. For Robert Crane, it’s a bit like grad school.

The amateur cyclist and mechanical engineering MSc student knows that in school or on the road, it pays to take measure of what slows you down, and what will help you achieve a personal victory.

Toward the end of his degree, Crane discovered that a Transformative Talent Internship (TTI) could help pave the way from grad school to a promising career. Coming in like a tailwind, the TTI helped Crane pursue an opportunity to combine his academic and athletic interests. Starting in May, he will work with the Kazak Group pioneering sensor technology for cycling applications.

“Technology is changing the sport,” says Crane. “Power meters quantify rider performance under different conditions, making cycling more data-driven than ever.” The Kazak Group’s concept is to make power meters measure more: wind resistance, tire size, tread and pressure, road conditions — all factors affecting speed and efficiency.

Competitive cyclists often pay for expensive wind tunnel testing. As an alternative, expanding the capabilities of sensor technology could give cyclists real-time data to optimize things like wheel choice based on actual road conditions. “The challenge is translating noisy, confusing data sets from various sensors into useful, simplified data for the cyclist,” says Crane.

Opportunities for intern and company to grow

Crane, who studies fluid dynamics, had worked previously with the Kazak Group leading to a publication on wheel aerodynamics in the Journal of Fluids Engineering. After learning about the TTI program from his graduate program director Phil Egberts, Crane pitched the internship to the Kazak Group as a way to help the start-up gain an extra set of hands. For Crane, it’s an opportunity to put research and programming skills into practice.  

“The internship will give me hands-on experience, drawing on my knowledge of physical principles in an applied way,” says Crane. “I’m going to build on skills that I’ve picked up in my degree, particularly in software and hardware design.”

Crane is confident that the internship will open doors to other career opportunities. “The skills I’m using in this internship could transfer to other areas, like instrumentation used to monitor pipelines. I’m feeling good about my long-term prospects.”

Creative writing PhD student Heather Osborne’s TTI helped her gain experience in the world of professional writing and publishing.

Heather Osborne’s TTI helped her gain experience in the world of professional writing and publishing

Heather Osborne

Transformative Talent Internships support students on and off campus

Heather Osborne just completed a TTI, and it made all the difference in her degree.

The English creative writing PhD candidate convocates this June, thanks in part to her TTI. “I was in my final year when my SSHRC funding ran out. I almost quit the program only months before I was set to defend,” says Osborne. “I couldn't justify staying if I wasn't able to make ends meet. My supervisor, Stefania Forlini, went to bat for me, looking for funding sources. That's when my graduate program director told me about the program. It was really fortuitous and helped me a lot.”

Osborne approached Robin van Eck, the director of the Alexandra Writers’ Centre Society (AWCS), and suggested she could use an intern to help organize courses and co-ordinate events with authors. The timing was right, as the Centre was just moving into a new location at the Kind Edward cSPACE building. Osborne helped co-ordinate the grand opening, got involved in workshops, and improved the AWCS website.

The TTI allowed Osborne to strike the right balance between her thesis work and a job that provided valuable industry experience.

“Many skills that I developed as a PhD student were useful for this role,” says Osborne. “Organization is key to keeping track of a big project, whether writing a thesis or developing a semester's curriculum with twenty different instructors.”

Spending time on the professional side of the creative writing community was a welcome experience, connecting Osborne with writers from a wide variety of backgrounds. “Some have just started writing and others are ready to go pro. A lot of people were writing creative non-fiction, memoir, or a biography of someone in their family.”

Building on transferable skills

Osborne picked up skills that she will carry on beyond the internship, including accounting and database management. In fact, she’s putting those skills to work in a full-time job with Titan Health and Safety that materialized through a contact she made while at AWCS.

When asked if she would recommend the TTI to other students, Osborne was enthusiastic. “I very much recommend it. The biggest piece of advice I have for other grad students is to watch for those departmental emails that you might otherwise delete or ignore. Sometimes the opportunities go by really quickly or you might not be aware of them. They're out there.”

Transformative Talent Internships  are supported by Alberta Innovates funding, and are offered year-round through My GradSkills in the Faculty of Graduate Studies. TTIs give graduate students exposure to meaningful career opportunities, bridging the gap between academia and the workplace.