Our Marketing Coordinator, Hannah, got to sit down with both of the coordinators of the newly launched Science Internship Program (SIP), Kristin Chow (K) and Noorie Jadavji (N) to discuss the program. We are very grateful for the time they took to answer the questions she prepared to help you learn more about the program and best prepare to partake in it. Kristin and Noorie shared a lot of great insight so we decided to provideyou with the full interview for you to get all the information you wish out of it!
Below is the full transcript of their interview, it covered requirements for the program, the difference between an internship and a co-op, the benefits for us students to take part in SIP and many more aspects of SIP!
We hope you find this article helpful, you can learn more about the program on the SIP page! There will also be SIP Information Sessions on January 22nd from 5:00-6:00 PM and on January 27th from 12:00-1:00 PM, you must register through CareerLink to attend them. You can also meet with a Program Advisor in the Undergraduate Science Centre to discuss how to fit the Science Internship Program into your degree.
Feel free to reach out to us or the SIP coordinators themselves if you have further questions! We’re also happy to receive feedback on this article and any requests you have for future articles!
Don't forget the deadline to apply for this exciting opportunity is February 1st this year!
Q1. How did the Science Internship Program (SIP) come to be?
N: The program came to be because the co-op programs were very limited to the Applied Chemistry, Ecology, Computer Science and Actuarial Science programs and there was demand from employers and demand from students in other program areas such as biology. There had been failed attempts at getting the program across the faculty because the numbers weren’t there. So, we had to show and prove that students both needed this and wanted it and that employers demanded it too. They were looking for students in program areas that we couldn’t offer, so students had to take time off of school in order to obtain those experiences. So that lack, that gap, allowed us to expand our program and our team.
K: I surveyed a lot of students in January. This idea has been around forever, but the traction took off about two years ago when it became very apparent that there was a need for this program, both from employers and from students, and that the structure we had just wasn’t serving students. So we started to work towards sort of flushing out the previous framework. Really critically, we worked closely with other institutions across Canada who already offer similar programs. So, for example, the University of Alberta and their Faculty of Science offer a program that is identical in structure to the program we’re offering. It’s a great competitive piece that when employers are looking across Alberta, we’re able to say that this is a standardized system – it equals the playing field. Last January we surveyed all Faculty of Science students who didn’t already have an internship opportunity (that’s everyone except the Actuarial Science, Ecology and Computer Science students). We had a high participation rate with over 95% of those students saying “please, give us internships”. It was so convincing that it was the data we needed to be able to go forward. As it is an academic program, we had to go through the academic proposals process which is to take it through various levels of upper management and faculty levels. We had a working group where we received feedback from faculty, employers and students, informing what the program would look like.
We were very lucky to have been able to push this through quickly. Normally, it takes about a year and a half to get a proposal through but it only took us five months. So, there was a lot of support right from the top, right from the Provost’s office – they were really behind this. We were very lucky with our timing; the University of Calgary is moving towards a goal of 100% of students having some form of experiential learning. Experiential learning on a broad basis can be anything from volunteering to studying abroad or doing lab work. The Faculty of Science already has that kind of locked down but this was a way for us to provide work-integrated learning in the faculty. The program being approved in June was a monumental occasion for us. Then, we very quickly worked to get it ramped up and ready to go, so it’s live as of September 2020.
N: And from some faculty too.
K: Yes, a lot of faculty members were seeing and hearing from students that they need work experience but cannot get it. And then, it was about being able to put those pieces together to come up with the program that we have – one that’s both attainable for students to achieve as well as manageable for us to run at the volume that we anticipate there being interest. And most critically, the really big piece that we pushed hard for, is that typical internship programs are 12-16 months. Students in the Faculty of Science, had shared with us that it can be quite challenging for students to take a full year off of their degree. So 8 months is what we came down to, to ensure that it was as flexible as possible, while still getting the value out of a longer work term, which is what internships traditionally are.
Q2. What is the difference between an internship and a co-op?
K: They’re both forms of work-integrated learning. Co-op programs alternate between academic terms and work terms whereas in internships, you do the set length of work all in one time.
Q3. Are students responsible to find employers if they partake in this program?
K: Students are responsible to secure their own position but what we do is we support them in that search. There is a job board exclusive to Science Internship Program students where employers come directly to us to post positions. This year, we had over 600 jobs posted for students, and as an indication of how many of those are going unfilled, we only had about 180 students working this year. So, when I say there is demand from employers, I mean they are asking “Where are the people? We want students in jobs!”. There also is the central Career Services’ job board that a lot of companies will directly post to.
Something we’re also really encouraging students to do is be creative in their job search and secure a position that they’re really excited about, which might be external to the companies that are coming to us. The really exciting thing that happened over the last year is that research positions have become eligible to classify as internships now, so NSERC funding can be used towards internship, which is awesome. It really opens the door for students, particularly in programs like Physics, Chemistry, and Biological Sciences, for those students maybe wanting exposure to the research field, aiming for graduate school or wherever. They can combine that with the internship program, get their research positions through it and possibly some funding through NSERC’s grant programs.
We also want students to be drivers of their own careers. The whole point of internship is to gain experience and connections in the career that you want. So, if you’re going out there and looking for an internship, we don’t want you to be working in a position that is merely data entry or getting coffee. We’re looking for value-added positions that students are excited about that will add value and growth to their career, post-graduation. Which is why I say a student in Biological Sciences isn’t limited to those positions that are more traditional to Biological Sciences. If there is a student in Biological Sciences who’s doing a Data minor and wants to work in data analytics for a biotech company – fantastic! If there’s a student in Biological Sciences who’s really excited about communication and finds a role doing that – absolutely! It’s your career, so we want to help build those connections. So, the whole point of the curriculum behind internship and the information and resources that we’re providing with students is career development; becoming a stronger employee and better professional for when you graduate, so that you’re getting a head start compared to where you would be without the work experience.
Q4. Does UofC have established partnerships with employers already?
K: Yes, many strong partnerships. I’ll give all the credit to Noorie for this. She’s been working for a long time to develop really strong partnerships with employers from many different industries who work with us – some exclusively hire interns from our programs. So, it’s a really great benefit that we have, and we have more and more reaching out to us every day. Noorie and I are also working to develop new partnerships with employers so that we have those positions available for students; especially, the kinds of industries that aren’t currently included in our program.
Q5. How can a student best search for jobs for internships? Would it be just going to the boards that you mentioned?
N: There also are information sessions and events that happen quite frequently. We encourage students to attend them because they’re opportunities for one-on-one interactions with employers, networking opportunities.
K: A lot of these are run through the central Career Services office. They’re constantly bringing employers onto campus. But we also encourage students to have a LinkedIn account, use the LinkedIn job board, use Indeed, use Workopolis, use Monster, and explore options as far as cold-calling a company they’re excited about. That kind of initiative and engagement is a really attractive thing to any employer. So while there’s a lot of pretty quick and easy, basic ways to find jobs through many different job boards, including ours, we also encourage students to be creative in their search and take that initiative to lead the career that they want.
Q6. How will this program help students during their degree? What about after their degree?
K: The really big benefit of having this internship is that it’s during your degree. By having your work experience in the middle of your degree, it helps inform what you do when you come back to your degree. For example, we currently have students in the Computer Science Internship Program, and a lot of them are focused on web development. It’s not uncommon for those students to do 12 months in web development and say “It’s not for me. What I found out I’m really passionate about is something totally different”. So then in their fourth-year classes, they have the ability to pivot while they’re still in their program and refocus their training so that they can go out and aim more towards a degree they’re passionate about. We’ve also had a lot of other students come back and be like “This was awesome. This really clicked for me and I know exactly what I want to do. I know the kinds of companies that I want to work for.” In order to remain eligible to participate in an internship you have to have at least 3 degree-required classes remaining in your degree. So you have to come back from internship to a full-time academic term. That is because a) we want you to have the safety net of returning to academics, and b) we want to allow you to have that rich experience that will then inform the remainder of your degree to better inform your career and your training.
N: And the other piece to that is that employers are the ones who are looking for students within a co-op or an internship. They come to us to confirm the student is in a formal program because they get funding that’s based on having a student in a co-op or internship program, as well as they require the student to come back to finish their degree.
K: There’s a lot of really fantastic government funding out there, both from the federal and provincial government, for employers to hire students. So that means students have to be in a full-time degree or program, and that aligns really well with what our program is doing, which is connecting those employers to the student population.
Q7. So the primary benefit after graduating would be that employers really value having this internship in between?
K: Hugely, and it’s about developing those connections. When you’re graduating from university, it’s a big transition and as you’re looking for work, if you’ve never participated in any form of work experience, you’re basically starting from scratch. The benefit of internship is that you get that foot in the door. You make some connections, you gain some experience and you build that really valuable career network so that when you do graduate and you are looking for work, instead of just starting from scratch, you’ve got 4 or 5 people in your back pocket that you can turn to and say, “I’m done my degree now. I’m looking for something like this". And even if a job doesn’t materialize in the company you did your internship with, those connections can lead you to other jobs and having that network behind you is part of what having a successful career is. It’s having people that you can work with and connect with to open new doors for you that may have otherwise not existed.
Q8. Will students receive academic credits to their degree upon completion of this program?
K: They will receive internship credits, not credits that will count towards their degree completion. It’s 15 units per internship class and these credits do appear on your transcript. It is credit received/failed based on completion. So, the difference is that if you’re completing a Biological Sciences degree, when you graduate your parchment will say “Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences”. If you do Biological Sciences with Internship, your parchment will say “Bachelor of Science in Biological Science” and “Science Internship Designation”. The value of that extra credential, really uniquely in Canada, is that co-ops and internships are overseen by a central body in Canada called Cooperative Education and Work-Integrated Learning Canada. What this group does is it works with post-secondaries across the country to streamline what co-op and internship mean and how they’re offered so we all work on an equal level. What it means for University of Calgary Biological Sciences students is that if you earn an internship designation through University of Calgary, your designation holds the same weight as anyone who participated in an internship or co-op designation from UBC, Waterloo, McGill or Queens, etc. They’re all standardized, so your designation carries value not just in Calgary but across the country. Really critically in Canada, all co-op and internship positions must be paid. If you were to go to the United States, a lot of them are unpaid, so it’s a great opportunity that has been standardized across our system to provide that value to students.
Q9. What is the criteria by which students will be chosen to partake in the program?
K:The Science Internship Program offers students in the Faculty of Science the opportunity to participate in 8 to 16 consecutive months of work experience. Work must be full-time and paid. Internship is an academic program, successful completion of this program leads to the Science Internship Designation, which appears on your academic transcript and degree parchment.
Application and Admission Information
The application for the Science Internship Program is now available through CareerLink. The deadline to apply is February 1st 2020. Admission decisions will be released in March 2020 and students are eligible to start their work terms in September 2020.
To be eligible for admission, students must have
- completed 60 units before January 1st 2020
- a minimum 9 required units remaining in the degree after the Winter 2020 semester
- met the required 2.70 GPA, calculated on the most recent 30 units as of Fall 2019
- submitted a resume and cover letter with their application
Q10. Is there a cap on how many students can partake in the Science Internship Program?
K: There is not. This is because we want to encourage students to take advantage of this opportunity. It’s such a wonderful opportunity and we didn’t want to limit it.
Q11. So, there is no set number of seats per program?
K: No, we select whoever applies and meets the admission criteria.
Q12. What does this mean for the pre-existing programs for Ecology, Computer Science and Actuarial Science?
K: They’ve been wrapped up and transformed into the new Science Internship Program. There are students currently in the existing co-op and internship programs for Actuarial Science, Applied Chemistry, Ecology and Computer Science. Those students who have started work under those programs will finish their work under the existing programs. If students have applied into that program and haven’t secured work yet, they will be moved into the new SIP as of September 2020. Going forward, everyone will be under the new SIP umbrella. But, the pre-existing opportunities are not being removed, they are just being transitioned into the SIP instead.
Q13. How much money would it cost a student to partake in this program?
K: The academic fees are in the Academic Calendar and they change per year. So we’d prefer students refer to the calendar for an exact number as we don’t regulate the fees. In general, the tuition cost is roughly the cost of one 3-unit course plus the student fees associated with being a full-time student.
N: There also is a $50 admission fee. This fee is due once you receive admission into the program and is non-refundable.
Q14. Are there any other thoughts that you would like to share that were not touched on?
K: I want to also highlight that students can participate in work experiences outside of Calgary. We have had students in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Beijing, Tokyo, Paris and Germany. So, international is possible, but there are some criteria that you have to meet in order for that to take place.
We will be offering career preparation workshops for students in the Science Internship Program. Workshops will include resume and cover letter support, interview preparation, career exploration and bringing employers onto campus to meet with students directly.
Our team is here to support and guide you and help that experience align with internship.
For us, it’s about helping students create the career that they want for themselves.
This interview transcript was edited for clarity and brevity.