Internship Tips for Grad Students


As a 6th year Ph.D Candidate in Ethnic Studies, I often find myself obsessing over the future and the career path that is best suited for me and the life I want to live beyond graduate school. Do I want to continue on in academia as a tenure-track professor or is a career outside or alongside academia best for me? If the latter, what would a career outside or alongside academia look like?

These questions have lead me to hours of online searching on employment sites such as and to get a sense of the types of jobs available for PhDs in the humanities and social sciences. As I peruse through the “experience” sections of relevant job postings, I usually come across requirements that state: “prospective employees must have a minimum of ‘X’ years of professional work experience in nonprofit management” or “a minimum of ‘X’ years of leading a project team or managing staff” or “five to seven years of professional experience working with [fill in the blank] required…” and the list goes on.

By the end of most of these search sessions my head is pounding and I’m kicking myself for not pursuing “professional” experiences outside of academia while in grad school. Many jobs outside and alongside academia require professional skills and experiences that can be obtained through internship training. I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “do I even have time for an internship as a graduate student? Are unpaid internships worth my time and energy? When and where should I search for internship opportunities as a grad student?” I recently met up with Giulia Hoffman, who received a PhD in English from UC Riverside and now works at UC San Diego’s career center as a Graduate Student Career Advisor, to ask for tips on locating internship opportunities as a graduate student. This article presents 5 tips to obtaining professional experience outside of academia via internships.

  1. Seek internship opportunities throughout your tenure as a graduate student

Time is precious for graduate students and many of us believe that there is a “perfect” time to start searching for internships. You may find yourself saying “I’ll search for an internship after I finish my core classes. Or, I’ll have time after my qualifying exams are over.” However, Hoffman cautions against this type of thinking and advises graduate students to try to work-in internships throughout their time in graduate school starting as early as your first year in the program. As graduate students our interests change over time and having internship experience early on in grad school can give us a sense of the different kinds of activities, responsibilities, and skills that grab our interest inside and outside of the academy, as well as help us to understand what we do not want in terms of work or a career.

  1. Create your own internship opportunities

Graduate students often find internships online through websites such as,, or Versatile PhD. However, what many students do not know is that there are seemingly hidden internship opportunities within your university as well as opportunities to develop an internship. Hoffman has found that for graduate students in the Humanities and Social Sciences, self-created internships tend to be the most fruitful.  Students may find internship opportunities available on campus in the graduate division. Sometimes talking to faculty or staff from campus offices, such as the graduate division, can lead you to an internship. Another option would be to talk to faculty about research-driven internships that, at times, are made possible through external grants. Humanities Centers and other campus-wide centers may offer additional possibilities or hold information about internship opportunities. Hoffman also encourages graduate students to visit companies or non-profit organizations that may be of interest to them and ask if they have internship opportunities available. Sometimes setting up a meeting and visiting a prospective job site will lead to an internship. Remember, there’s no shame in self-promotion!

  1. Use social media to your advantage

Social media is not only good for catching up with old high school and college buddies, it’s also a great way to network and locate available internships. Platforms such as LinkedIn—which has created its own job search app—can be used to find employment and internships. Facebook and Twitter can also double as professional tools for you to build up your online profile in a professional manner. Here at Humanists@Work, we often make announcements for employment and summer internship opportunities via Twitter, so be on the look out for that!

  1. Year-round vs. summer internships

The decision to pursue an internship during the academic year or the summer is really dependent on your individual circumstances. For example, it may be more difficult to work as an intern during the academic year for graduate students who have teaching positions. In this case, you may choose to apply for summer internship opportunities when availability becomes a bit more flexible. The best thing to do is plan ahead. What does the academic year tend to look like for you? Are you preparing to go on the job market in the fall? Then you may want to dedicate your energy into preparing for that instead of locating internships. Are winter or spring quarters heavy teaching quarters? Then summer may be a better time for an internship. It’s all about considering what is or will be going on in your life at a particular time that may make it easier or more difficult to dedicate yourself to an internship. 

  1. Paid or unpaid? That is the question…

Unfortunately, internships often are unpaid. Graduate students in the humanities and social sciences must work in some way or another to take care of themselves, and at times their families, financially. For many of us, the wages that we receive as teaching assistants, readers, or graduate student researchers barely help us to make ends meet so the thought of an unpaid internship is enough to send us screaming for the hills. When only positions for unpaid internships are available, it becomes a personal decision of whether or not volunteering time to an organization or company will be beneficial. Hoffman advises that graduate students weigh the pros and cons of an unpaid internship. Yes, it will be an investment of your time and free labor; however, the time that you dedicate to this opportunity may allow you to network and connect to people and organizations outside of academia that perhaps you would not have gotten to know or meet otherwise. Ask yourself if the unpaid internship will be worth your time. Will it lead to an opportunity for a paid internship or position down the road or does it seem like your labor and time will be undervalued? According to Hoffman, it really is all about trial and error when seeking an internship. Here at Humanists@Work, we understand the importance in getting paid for your labor. That is why we are working system wide, in collaboration with other humanities centers, to create more paid internship opportunities for graduate students. We encourage those working within the system to think about ways to make the graduate experience healthier for students.

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About the Author

Christina Green

Christina GreenChristina is a PhD Candidate at UC San Diego in the department of Ethnic Studies. Her dissertation examines the gendered labor and migration of Black West Indian women to Central America during the late nineteenth -to mid-twentieth century banana booms. As a member of the Humanists@Work Graduate Student Advisory Committee, Christina is dedicated to informing other humanities and social science PhDs about alternative career paths outside and alongside academia.

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