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Rackham Internships: Responding to Professional Development Needs in the Biosciences, Humanities, and Social Sciences

The Challenge

Recent Rackham career outcomes data show a diversity of career trajectories for students in the humanities, social sciences, and STEM. With less than half of graduates pursuing tenure-track faculty positions, more and more students find employment in government, business, nonprofits, and academic administration.

Yet graduate programs typically focus on professional development only for the academic track. Given the diverse careers that our graduates pursue, Rackham seeks to support graduate students in developing the skills necessary to be successful in a wide range of employment sectors.

Career development involves helping students to assess their interests and skills and to explore career fields of interest through networking, mentorship, and gaining relevant professional experiences to expand their competencies.

How can we use internships to better prepare doctoral students for diverse, meaningful, and impactful careers?

Our Approach

Biosciences Internship Grant

Internships can be particularly valuable for individuals earning a Ph.D. in the biosciences, where a broad range of careers is available and graduation rates far outpace the growth of tenure-track faculty positions. In 2019 Rackham began providing funding for up to 10 Ph.D. students in the biosciences to pursue a 12-week internship during the Spring/Summer terms.

  • Funding is available in the amount of $8,160, which is the equivalent of three months of a stipend.
  • Students may also request up to $1,000 in relocation costs if they choose to intern at a site outside Ann Arbor.
  • Interested students must submit an application that includes a letter of support from their advisor and a narrative describing the rationale for the internship; how it relates to the student’s research, scholarship, or field of interest; and the importance of the internship for enhancing the student’s career goals and career readiness.

Rackham Public Engagement Fellowship

Since 2010, Rackham has been supporting spring/summer graduate internships for students in the humanities and social sciences through the Rackham Program in Public Scholarship (RPPS). The goals are to give students the chance to apply their knowledge and skills in real-world settings, to advance mutually beneficial projects with partner organizations that serve diverse public audiences, and to assist students in exploring diverse career paths.

  • Rackham works with partner organizations (museums, community foundations, nonprofits) to create intellectually rigorous, mutually beneficial projects where the organizations would value the contributions of a graduate student.
  • Each internship opportunity has its own duration; the stipend is determined based on duration. This flexible structure gives students time during the summer months for both professional development and their individual research or other commitments.
  • Students apply with a cover letter, resume, and three references to specific sites based on position descriptions. Site supervisors decide which students to interview and hire. Once selected, students complete a work plan with their site supervisor and sign an agreement which outlines expectations for both parties.

In 2019, there were 74 applications (including students applying to multiple sites), 41 unique applications, and 16 placements. In 2019, we expanded the program to allow students to identify an organization where they wanted to do an internship and receive a stipend. We received five applications and made two awards, bringing the total number for 2019 to 18. The cohort meets as a learning community four times throughout the summer.

What We’ve Learned

Since 2010, 111 graduate students have received Public Engagement Fellowships for summer internship experiences. We have found that internships have been beneficial for individuals pursuing a variety of careers, including tenure-track positions. We can help students get the most out of their learning experience by preparing them ahead of time and building in strategic and structured reflection prompts along the way.

The biosciences internship grant program was launched in 2019, and three students received funding in the inaugural year. All were paid by their sites, but they still benefited from relocation funding, as their internships were located in California and Boston. We found that an application deadline of early February made it challenging for students to finalize their internships before submitting their applications.

Some barriers persist due to program curricula and scheduling. Students often find it difficult to balance internships with research trips and other spring/summer commitments. For most students, internships of any length are not normalized or integrated in their program. With time we hope to partner with faculty and programs to incorporate internships in graduate education curricula.

Next Steps

Rackham seeks to make internship experiences more widely available to graduate students across campus and offer a variety of models to meet students’ differing needs.

  • We plan to continue the summer internship opportunities through the Public Engagement Fellowship and Biosciences Internship Grants.
  • More ambitiously, we seek to establish internships that would be held during the academic year and would cover tuition, GradCare, and stipend (equivalent to a GSI or GSRA position).
  • We are working with departments and programs to incorporate internships into their graduate curricula and funding structures, making professional experience an integral part of graduate education at the University of Michigan.


Rackham Graduate School