Internships can be transformative experiences for graduate students, providing opportunities to gain hands-on experience, network with industry professionals, and develop professional skills. They can also give you the option to explore non-academic career paths that interest you and prepare for the ever-evolving demands of the job market. While navigating the world of internships may seem daunting, there are several resources and tools that can make the process smoother and more successful. This article distills the take-away advice from a recent GradPro panel featuring Berkeley graduate students and alumni who have successfully completed internships. Whether you want to learn what  internship opportunities are available to graduate students, prepare for interviews, or learn how to maximize your internship experience, the insights of the panelists can help.

Key Takeaways from the Panel Discussion

1. What Kinds of Internships Can Graduate Students Pursue?

Internships can serve as a trial period for potential career directions that interest you. They enable exploration of various industries, roles, and responsibilities, offering you insight into whether these paths align with your career aspirations. While some graduate students will pursue internships that are specifically designed for graduate students, others will take on internships that accept both undergraduate and graduate applicants or that are not specifically designed for students. The variety of internships available to graduate students is broad, but our panelists’ roles can begin to give you a sense of what is possible: Arjun Narayanan, a Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. candidate, interned at Siemens, a major tech conglomerate, conducting medical imaging research. David Bratt, who holds a Ph.D. in Chinese, interned at a management consulting firm during his time as a graduate student. He has also conducted two post-grad internships through the Presidential Management Fellows Program, first as a Portfolio Management Specialist at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and second in a data analytics division of the Department of the Treasury. Elnaz Bailey, a Ph.D. candidate in Architecture, focused her internship efforts on virtual reality research with Meta Reality Labs. Reubén Pérez, a sociology Ph.D. student, gained applied research experience in the tech industry, completing summer internships in User Experience Research (UXR) at Lyft, Tableau, and Dropbox.

GradPro, in collaboration with Berkeley Career Engagement, has developed a supplementary resource handout on the essential resources for graduate  internships that you can view here. In the handout you will find a list of job boards that commonly list internships; review the job boards to learn more about what internship options are out there.

2. Preparing for and Securing an Internship

Graduate students take a variety of routes to securing internships. However, most panelists in the recent workshop agreed that networking was instrumental to landing their internships. Some of the panelists applied to dozens of internships, and received just as many rejections, before getting an offer from an organization where they had developed a relationship. For one of the panelists, this connection came from attending a career fair and meeting an alum who offered to provide a referral to their company. Another student reached out to an organization they had previously worked for and asked if they had open internships. Both situations led to eventual internship offers.

How can you build this invaluable network? The panelists suggested attending career fairs, reaching out to peers and alumni, and attending the Beyond Academia conference in the spring semester to make connections with attendees and panelists. To learn more about networking, make an appointment with GradPro or read this Grad News article on networking.

Some of the panelists also emphasized that students should consider a broad range of internships and begin applying to internships early on in their graduate program. While you may have a particular internship in mind, such as interning as a User Experience Researcher, you may want to consider applying to a broader range of related internships, such as internships in Project Management and User Experience Design.

3. What to Expect During Your Time as an Intern

Our panelists all agreed that internships can provide a dynamic environment where you can expect to rapidly develop new skills. Internships often unfold in a fast-paced setting, necessitating effective time management to meet deadlines and complete tasks efficiently. This pace contrasts with the typical extended timelines of Ph.D. research and milestones. Another valuable skill to develop during an internship is collaborating effectively with team members and engaging with various stakeholders. Many internships in industry settings will require you to engage with stakeholders such as product designers, engineers, and data scientists. Depending on your role, you may need to develop stakeholder buy-in, which can involve understanding organizational dynamics and communicating the value of your contribution across contexts.

Another set of considerations you may need to navigate as an intern involves the relationship between your own research and the work you complete as an intern. Some internship employers may specifically ask you to not work on your own research during your time as a researcher. Even if this isn’t specifically asked, our panelists agree that keeping your internship and academic work separate is a good idea. If your research is very similar to your internship work, consider consulting with advisors on potential legal implications, such as patents and intellectual property (IP) matters to ensure your research is protected.

4. How Your Internship Might Impact Your Studies and Career

Each of our panelists found that their experience as an intern has helped inform their career planning and preparation and enabled them to gain real-world experience and establish valuable professional connections. Whether you are considering a career in academia, industry, or a different sector, internships offer an opportunity to explore and evaluate options. They provide a bridge between academic studies and practical application, which can help you make informed choices about your career path. For example, David Bratt, ventured into internships in consulting and the federal government. His time as a consulting intern helped him decide to pursue a public sector job.

The experiences gained during internships can also help students refine their research projects and skills. Some of the panelists said they were able to better define the scope of their Ph.D. research after taking time away from their research for an internship. Finally, panelists had mixed approaches to discussing their internship with their academic advisors. Some were in open and direct communication with their advisor about their internship search, while others chose to keep their internship search to themselves.

While internships can be demanding, they provide unique opportunities to apply and refine research skills, gain real-world experience, and make valuable connections. Our panelists encouraged graduate students to consider pursuing an internship, particularly those interested in exploring careers beyond academia. They recommend building a professional network early, gaining clarity about your career goals, and broadening job and internship searches to gain access to diverse opportunities.

About the Author: Haripriya Sathyanarayanan is a Ph.D. candidate in Architecture with a designated emphasis in New Media at the College of Environmental Design, and is an international student and student-parent. Haripriya currently serves as a Professional Development Liaison (PDL) at GradPro.