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Internships and Other Pre-Professional Opportunities

This page was created at the 2013 Geoscience in the 21st Century Workforce workshop by Rebecca Dodge (Midwestern State University), Phyllis Pouyat-Thibodeau (Robert H. Smith School of Business), Anna Nesbitt (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Douglas Howard (USGS/Georgetown University), and Geoffrey Cook (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego)

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Integrating pre-professional development into your program is a powerful way to help your students succeed. Pairing traditional classroom learning with internships or other outside-the-classroom activities gives students valuable experience, increases their marketability, and provides them with direction for the future. Early experience may inform students' career paths and form connections that can be fruitful for initiating their career search. For example, this 2017 article from AGI's Geoscience Currents highlights some of the benefits reported by students who took part in internship opportunities with AGI and AGU.

While cited by students as a key factor in their professional and academic development, the 2013 report from the American Geosciences Institute (AGI) suggests that opportunities for internships and pre-professional experiences are underutilized. Of the graduating students surveyed in the study, 26% of the 339 bachelor's graduates, 48% of the 63 master's graduates, and 14% of the 26 doctoral graduates surveyed attained employment with a company or organization where they had previously interned (from AGI's Status of Recent Geoscience Graduates, 2013 opens pdf ).


Internships can provide a hands-on way for students to get and strengthen the skills they need for the workforce. They also serve as a networking tool and potential entry point to a career after graduation. Structured internships offer "3-party learning contracts" between the student, the school, and the employer, with benefits for each party. For more information, take a look at these geoscience departments that have internship programs in place.
See examples of how others incorporate internships and pre-professional development opportunities into their program from the Building Strong Geoscience Departments project.

Student Benefits:

  • Creates connections to professional mentors
  • Opens the possibility for unrealized job opportunities
  • Provides academic credit
  • Makes learning relevant and "real"
  • May inspire studies and may promote inquiry-driven educational opportunities
  • Demonstrates interest and commitment to potential employers

Employer Benefits

  • Provides an opportunity to "pre-screen" potential employment candidates
  • Allows employers to participate in training potential candidates
  • Provides insight about academic programs at various institutions
  • Potentially makes special projects financially feasible (and plausible)
  • Presents an opportunity for mentoring by senior scientists and aids in planning for the future of industry (succession planning)
  • Encourages collaboration with universities on Research and Development

Academic Institution Benefits

  • Builds a relationship with employers via student projects
  • Performance reviews provided by the employer can act as an additional assessment tool
  • Supports marketing (value of education)
  • Provides real-world "laboratory/infrastructure" resource sharing
  • May re-inspire and invigorate faculty
  • Potentially provides links and/or funding for faculty research
  • Showcases demonstrated student learning outcomes

Other Pre-Professional Opportunities

Research Opportunities

Research opportunities can help students develop research and communication skills that will serve them well later on in their academic and professional careers. Research opportunities can be found with faculty at academic and research institutions as well as government agencies, national labs and professional organizations.

Undergraduate research opportunities

Community service

Community service doesn't just look good on a resume - it can get students out of the classroom and thinking about how their skills apply to the "real world." It also ties together institutions with their surrounding community. Community service can be done at the individual level (e.g. a student research project) or group level (e.g. a course with a service learning project; a student group getting involved in the community; etc.). Service learning is a proven method for engaging students and showing them what geoscientists can do after graduation.

Examples of service learning projects:

  • The Living Learning Program at the University of Illinois provides students with community-building and networking opportunities right in their residence halls.
  • Campus-wide events, like the annual Great Day of service at Midwestern State University, make it easy to get involved. See examples of service learning projects contributed by faculty that can be used wholesale or modified to fit your course.

Professional Associations and Meetings

Joining professional associations and attending meetings can often give students access to resources not available to non-members. As a member of such organizations, students may get access to journal publications, short courses, conferences, career resources, peer networking abilities, and private job listings among other things. Oftentimes, students can join a professional society at a reduced rate.

Attending or presenting at professional meetings can further benefit students by opening them to the opportunities that exist in research and the workforce in general, providing a mechanism for networking with peers and potential collaborators or employers, and, if presenting, can aid them in building their communication skills.

Study Abroad Opportunities

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected through technology and commerce, international experience is becoming an increasingly desirable attribute for students. These opportunities can help boost students' language skills, self-confidence and ability to communicate with a diverse range of people.

Integrated Workplace Learning

'Integrated workspace learning' or 'work-integrated learning' is a popular technique used to provide student employment opportunities in Australia and other countries. These opportunities are set up by the students' institution, and like internships, can provide students with hands-on opportunities to apply their classroom knowledge and skills to real-world experiences. Integrated workplace learning is different from professional development because it is aimed at students, not faculty or staff, and allows students to gain workplace experience while earning school credit. Launceston Assistance and Research Centre (LARC) at the University of Tasmania is an excellent example. Learn more about Work-Integrated Learning (opens pdf) , including its benefits and possible implementation mechanisms.

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