Pursuing an Internship as a Graduate Student

Jan. 13, 2021

Hello graduate students,

If you don’t know Joel Muraco, you should.

Joel has incredible resources to support the career goals of graduate students at any stage. If you are just starting grad school or if you are near the finish line, he will help you prepare for the next stage in your career. Because many graduate students are thinking about summer internships at this time of year, I asked Joel for his advice about internships for grad students. He has some excellent suggestions below.



Pursuing an Internship as a Graduate Student

Completing an internship while in school is a great way to diversify your experience, enhance your skills, gain insider knowledge about a particular role or employer, and network with professionals in your field. While it can be challenging to carve our the time required to complete an internship, an internship can give you the competitive edge and relevant network you need to help you successfully navigate into your post-education career, especially if considering a career beyond the academia. What follows are important considerations and insights to help you make an informed decision about whether an internship is right for you and, if it is, important information for you to be aware of.

Does an internship make sense for me?

There is a lot to juggle in graduate school: courses, projects, comprehensive exams, a thesis or dissertation, and research and teaching assignments as part of a graduate assistantship. Let us not also forget the myriad personal obligations you may be carrying. Thus, an important question to ask yourself is: Do I have the time, energy, and resources to complete an internship? Often, pursuing an internship opportunity means foregoing something else, or adding to your already full workload. It’s important to first reflect on whether you have capacity – do you currently have, or can you make space for the time, energy, and resources needed to successfully complete an internship?

Another important question to ask yourself is: Will an internship provide me additional skills and experiences relevant for my long-term career goals that I am not getting, nor will I be able to get, in my graduate program? This question is as important as the other, but for a different reason. If you find you have capacity or are willing to make room for an internship, it is important that an internship provide you some sort of professional benefit. If nothing else, an internship will provide you an insider’s perspective about a particular role or working for a particular company while helping you create a network of relevant professionals. Ideally, though, an internship will allow you to develop new skills while diversifying your professional experience.

After a little reflection, and perhaps talking with your advisor, peers in your program, and maybe even a few industry professionals, you should reliably be able to determine not only if an internship makes sense for you but if you have capacity to make it work.

What’s the timeline for an internship hiring process?

Increasingly, internships are available year-round, while still adhering to an academic calendar. This means you will usually find opportunities for fall and spring semesters and over the summer. While more challenging to make work with one’s schedule, fall and spring semester internships are usually less competitive because fewer people apply to them. That said, most internships tend to take place over the summer months as employers recognize students are often required to be in classes and on campus during the fall and spring semesters.

Regardless of when you are looking to do an internship, it is recommended to start looking 6 to 8 months out. Of course, as noted, while you will find internship opportunities year-round, there will be fewer opportunities to apply to during the spring and summer months. But don’t get discouraged! For example, many agencies, for example the Smithsonian’s Office of Fellowships and Internships, offer year-round internships with application deadlines throughout the year.

Are all internships paid?

In an ideal world, all internships would be paid. Unfortunately, there is considerable variation when it comes to if an internship is paid and how much it pays. One factor that influences pay is the type of employer you are looking to intern with. Non-profits and smaller organizations are less likely to have the resources to pay their interns. Conversely, larger and for-profit organizations often have the means and resources to pay interns, sometimes generously. That said, there may also exist variation within the same organization. For example, within the federal government, whether and how much an internship pays depends on the department or agency, as evidenced by their list of current internship opportunities.

Beyond just pay, there are other considerations as well. For example, many internships will not offer health insurance or relocation assistance. These factors may impact your ability to do an internship. Ensuring you maintain your student status should allow you to keep your student health insurance if you purchased the University of Arizona’s Student Health Insurance Plan. Similarly, you may find remote internship opportunities that will not require you to relocate, although these opportunities may be few and far between. Diversifying your internship search and keeping an open mind is a useful strategy to ensuring you find opportunities that meet your particular needs.

Where can I search for internship opportunities?

There are several online platforms you can use to learn about and apply to internships. Of course, if you have a particular employer in mind, start with their website and see if they have internship opportunities. Depending on the employer, they may have a separate internship webpage, they may list them with their other career opportunities, they may have an internship program, or they may not have anything relevant for interns posted. If you don’t see any internship opportunities posted, don’t be discouraged. Networking with those at the organization could lead to an internship opportunity even if the employer doesn’t regularly hire interns. Your career support team in the Graduate Center can help you learn strategies for effective networking.

Beyond targeting your internship search to specific employers, you may wish to cast a wide net. Here are a few online platforms that may be worth checking out:

  • US Department of State offers many intern and fellowship opportunities.
  • Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education offers intern and fellowship opportunities for graduate students in STEM disciplines.
  • Smithsonian’s Office of Fellowships & Internships outlines the numerous internship opportunities available, with many relevant opportunities for Humanities and Social Science graduate students.
  • LinkedIn is a robust resource for searching for internship opportunities. The trick is to use the filters and try relevant search terms to see what you may be able to find.
  • Consult any professional organizations to which you may be a member as many of these organizations often have a jobs and internship platform for members to explore.

What do I need to apply for an internship?

Similar to applying to a job, chances are good you will need a resume and a cover letter. Of course, if applying to a federal opportunity you may need a federally formatted resume. Otherwise, aim to create a 1- to 2-page resume when applying to internships. In addition to a resume, plan to write a succinct cover letter that should be no longer than a page. If you need help creating either of these documents, check out the career resources available to you through the Graduate Center.

What supports does the Graduate College provide to support my internship search?

You are not alone in your internship search. The Graduate Center has dedicated staff to support you every step of the way. You can schedule a one-on-one career advising appointment to discuss all things internship or enroll in the Career Forward Sprint program. Reach out to your career support team when ready!