An internship is an opportunity for "learning by exposure". It involves spending a prearranged period of time, either a few months, a semester, or a few hours per week during the semester, working (paid or unpaid) in a field of study or interest. An internship offers many benefits to both students and employers.

For example, students can:

  • Learn about investment, deposit and trust funds at a major Canadian bank
  • Work in public affairs at an embassy abroad
  • Assist a museum or gallery curator
  • Edit documents concerning industrial accidents in the Asia-Pacific region
  • Benefits of an Internship

Benefits to students:

  • Gain the (short-term) experience required to facilitate a job search in the field of your choice
  • Learn whether or not a particular career is right for you
  • Acquire or enhance a specific skill set
  • Learn "soft skills" of working in a professional environment (e.g. interpersonal skills, coping with office politics)
  • Get to know prospective employers (consider an internship as a "long interview")
  • Obtain academic or other credit for your work

Benefits to employers:

  • Gain an eager, highly-educated workforce at low cost
  • Maintain a constant source of fresh ideas and insights into your profession/organization
  • Fill staffing requirements with very flexible human resources

Suggestions for students

These requirements could help bridge the gap between the academic and professional environment, as well as providing opportunities to reflect on the learning process.

Considering and preparing for an internship:

Outline your general expectations and learning objectives, i.e. what you hope to gain from your experience

Describe how your pre-internship skills could assist the organization you are targeting Prepare for changes in culture if the internship is international

During the internship:

"Teach yourself" - the people with whom you will work are not primarily interested in teaching; rather they are engaged in meeting the goals of the firm

Keep a learning journal, systematically recording your experiences and observations:


  1. Description of the day's main project
  2. Description of the day's minor tasks
  3. Major achievements/failures in terms of: projects/tasks, people
  4. Compare this with previous efforts

A learning journal provides an excellent historical record (for the next résumé) and helps with writing a final report

After the internship:

If you have negotiated for credit, prepare reports/presentations that summarize or reflect on your experiences

For example, the report could be about 2500-5000 words, including:

  1. Background information about the organization
  2. Details of your responsibilities and contributions
  3. Lessons you have learned (e.g., business methodology, comments, etc.)
  4. Relation of the internship to your future career goals
  5. Supporting material (e.g., documents, charts, appendices)

Suggestions for employers

Match the position to student's academic or general interests

Outline the nature of the tasks the student will be responsible for and optional projects they may wish to become involved with

Provide an atmosphere that allows "supervised learning", whereby the student can progress on the job as quickly as possible with someone available to answer questions and provide general guidance

Ensure that the University's requirements are met (e.g., regarding length and quality of internship, reporting methods) so that the student can obtain any possible academic credit

Correspond with the semester schedule (January-April, May-August, September-December) OR arrange for part-time work during the term or on semester breaks

Establish criteria for performance evaluation and make the student aware of these at the beginning of the internship

Evaluate competencies of interns and structure assignments accordingly

Sources of financial assistance

While some internships are very well-paid, many are not and are frequently on a volunteer basis. However, there are several opportunities for financial assistance:

Loan deferments

If you are able to maintain student status or complete an internship of less than six month's duration, you remain exempt from Ontario/Canada student loan repayments. This usually also applies to private student loans

University assistance

Arts Co-op: Community and World Service Fellowship (Contact Arts Special Programs Office)
Peace and Conflict Studies/Conrad Grebel College: assistance is available to students completing this program

Outside assistance:

Various external sources are available to help defray expenses.

e.g. Northern Scientific Training Program (NTSP) helps pay for travel to Northern Canada and modest living expenses

Guidelines while on internship

Objectives of an internship:

Further the development of a central core of attitudes, strategies, skills and information in a workplace setting

Integrate theory and practice related to your aspirations and society in general

  • Sharpen professional skills
  • Utilize the knowledge gained from academic programs
  • Explore career possibilities
  • Expand critical evaluative and intellectual skills
  • Immerse yourself in the work environment of another culture

Differences between internship and co-op

Interview your colleagues for career-related information. Whereas a co-op term may involve learning through performing a specific role set aside for a student within the organization, internships may be more loosely structured. One does not preclude the other; co-op students are often given credit for internships. However, an internship is ideal for "regular" students who choose not to take part in the work-study cycle of co-op, or want to experience something directly related to their studies that cannot be found on a regular work term.

An internship should provide students with a strong sense of purpose. They should also benefit from the "synergy" that comes from a sponsor's willingness to teach them.

In the field

Be prepared to sort out all relevant information for yourself instead of having it presented to you

Determine the scope and content of your internship together with your supervisor

Seize the opportunity to acquire substantial knowledge of a particular discipline, which in turn enhances academic or professional knowledge

Remember that internships have "real" consequences (e.g., in terms of money, customer service)


Try everything possible to gain a cultural and social perspective on the firm in addition to learning, practicing and integrating specific professional knowledge and skills

Demonstrate enthusiasm, flexibility, initiative, and tact

Orient yourself to the host organization:

Remember: "You are a guest who has been invited to participate in the life of a firm"

Orient yourself physically and socially (everyone may not understand your role)

Be assertive

  • Keep a positive attitude
  • Test out your suitability for this profession as thoroughly as possible
  • Respect deadlines and deal with problems as they arise
  • Develop a portfolio of your work
  • Ask for performance-related feedback

University sponsored internship programs

Internship placements are available through some departments at the University of Waterloo. In many cases, where credit for a specific internship is not available, it may still be possible to use material from the internship as part of an independent study or reading course. Check with your undergraduate advisor to see if this might be possible. The following is a listing of departments that currently have internship programs:

Math students can participate in a program of Undergraduate Summer Research Awards, sponsored by the Faculty and the various departments. High academic standing is a prerequisite. For more information, contact the Dean's Office or Math Undergraduate Office. As well, students have the opportunity to work as teaching assistants during the term.

Students in a Peace and Conflict Studies Academic Plan (major, minor, option) may obtain credit for Field Study work in Peace and Conflict Studies. For more information, contact Lowell Ewert, Director of Peace & Conflict Studies, Telephone (519) 885-0220, Ext. 24380.