Since its inception in 2018, the McGill Doctoral Internship Program (DIP) has provided over 150 McGill students with the support they need as they explore career options and build professional skills as interns in private companies, government agencies, non-profits, and other organizations.
All PhD students in good standing who have the support of their supervisors are eligible to apply for the program. Offering students funding up to $2000/month for three months, the DIP gives PhD students the stability to pursue an internship in a field of their choosing.
For doctoral students interested in careers beyond the tenure track, the program has become a key stepping stone. According to statistics from Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS), over 40 per cent of former participants were employed by their host organizations after their internship, while 74 per cent worked in a similar employment sector.
At the same time, through the DIP, internship hosts receive a concrete demonstration of the unique perspectives, knowledge, and skills that McGill PhDs bring to the workforce. And clearly, employers are impressed, as the GPS internship coordinator, Alycia Bartczak, says, “We do have repeat hosts that enjoy working with our students such as the NRC [National Research Council] and 35Pharma.”
Entering the job market
For many McGill doctoral interns, the DIP is an opportunity to get a foot in the door in a short amount of time while developing a professional network.
Art History PhD candidate, Lindsay Corbett, who did her internship in the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, helped develop a digital application for visitors to engage with Japanese netsuke miniature sculptures. This DIP project, closely related to her own thesis research, led to long-term collaboration: “I [formed] a broader professional relationship…which sort of snowballed into further projects [with the museum],” Corbett says.
This experience is shared by Caitlin Fowler, PhD in Biological and Biomedical Engineering. She did her internship – and was later employed by – the NGO Evidence for Democracy, an organization that promotes evidence-based decision making in Canada.
For Fowler, the greatest value of the DIP was “having the opportunity to do something completely out of my wheelhouse … I didn’t need to have spent three years of my life during grad school volunteering to get this opportunity.”
Others, like Paolo Saporito, PhD in Italian Studies, benefit from the DIP because of the wide range of professional skills and experience they gain. Looking to acquire practical knowledge of the film industry and work in a francophone environment, he did his internship at the Festival international de film sur l’art (FIFA).
He ended up learning more than he anticipated. He originally worked organizing a conference – a task familiar to many PhD students – with artists and film industry professionals. But with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference was cancelled last minute, and Saporito quickly developed new skills by responding to the needs of the moment. “We had this very big archive of films, so we ended up organizing, in a matter of six days, the festival online.”
Like Saporito, Philippe Duquette, PhD in Anatomy and Cell Biology, acquired crucial skills for his career during his internship in a law firm, where he supported patent prosecution cases. Five years later, he is working in the same field and preparing to become a licensed patent agent. “Because of the internship, I ended up having multiple [job] offers,” Duquette says, adding that “for me, it’s a no-brainer. It’s the easiest way to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack.”
Creating closer connections with employers
If the DIP is positive for the careers of the individual participants, it also serves to elevate the profile of McGill PhDs more generally among employers.
Like many other internship hosts, Behnam Ashrafi, PhD, who researches novel materials for aerospace applications at the National Research Council (NRC), has been consistently impressed. According to Ashrafi, the four doctoral interns that he supervised were all “obviously very creative, they have unique toolkits that maybe you don’t find anywhere else, and… [bring] a different perspective.”
For instance, one intern brought a novel solution to a problem requiring an advanced simulation technique that Ashrafi’s research team had been unable to resolve for some time. After joining the NRC, the doctoral intern suggested a new tool he had worked with during his PhD: “It was surprisingly fast. Within 3–4 months that he was with us, he was able to progress to where we wanted to be,” Ashrafi recalls.
Almost all Ashrafi’s interns have continued to work with the NRC after their internships, often as postdocs. “I’m really happy that this mechanism exists…and hope that we can keep them longer, and [so far] pretty much there is no exception,” says Ashrafi.
If Ashrafi is convinced, the verdict from interns is also clear: as Philippe Duquette says, “just go for it.”