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Questions and Answers About Doctoral Internships for Rackham Programs, Departments, and Faculty

In recent years, national higher education leaders—the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), and the Council of Graduate Schools—have recommended that Ph.D. students be given the time and resources to explore a broad range of careers. Internships are one effective strategy for Ph.D. students to prepare for diverse careers.

There are many ways students might choose to complete an internship experience as a part of their Ph.D. studies at the University of Michigan.

One way is through a Rackham-supported internship completed through the Rackham Doctoral Intern Fellowship Program (RDIF). Rackham designed this program to allow doctoral students to more easily integrate a fully supported and funded internship into their graduate training.

Alternatively, students can also pursue internships independently of Rackham with the support of their department.

Rackham encourages programs to recognize that internships are experiential learning opportunities that can contribute to students’ professional development. Outside of guidelines for RDIF, however, Rackham does not have an academic policy on internships in cases where students are pursuing internships independently of RDIF.

With more doctoral students pursuing internships in a variety of ways, Rackham encourages programs to establish policies that align with their curriculum and degree requirements to allow for student participation in internships during graduate training.

Below are common questions and answers Rackham often receives from programs, departments, and faculty when students are completing internships.

These questions and answers can help guide how faculty and programs develop program-level policies for doctoral students seeking to complete an internship—whether with Rackham support or independently.

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Questions From Faculty Regarding Mentorship and Internships

Administrative Questions from Faculty, Programs, and Departments

Questions From Faculty Regarding Mentorship and Internships

Do I have to support students doing an internship during any semester they wish?

No. By including internships in your mentoring plans with your students, you can set expectations about when and how doing an internship would be possible. For example:

  • Is Spring/Summer, Fall, or Winter semester feasible and under what circumstances?
  • Is there any departmental funding for internships, or would students need to find a paid internship or receive RDIF support in order to make an internship feasible?
  • Is there external grant funding (NSF, National Institutes of Health, etc.) that needs to be considered?

What are the benefits for faculty and programs in allowing students to complete internships?

  • Students entering doctoral programs are increasingly interested in diverse career options and professional development opportunities. A track record of making internships possible can help recruit students to your program and department.
  • Career outcomes data show that doctoral students pursue a wide range of careers within and beyond academia. Doing an internship does not mean a student will leave academia. Students often return with a more realistic understanding of work in diverse contexts, both within and beyond academia.
  • Grants and funders are increasingly asking how departments or programs promote career exploration for students. Demonstrated support of doctoral internships may help increase competitiveness for external grants and funding opportunities. For instance, the National Institutes of Health includes “Career Development” as a section of the Scored Review Criteria for T32 training grants. The rubric specifically refers to experiential learning in the form of internships, shadowing, and informational interviews as favorable training program features. Similarly, the Council of Graduate Schools and National Endowment for the Humanities recommend internships as a promising practice for humanities Ph.D. students’ professional development.
  • Students bring back new knowledge and skills to enrich the graduate community and, in many cases, their research collaborators.
  • Encouraging internships builds a positive departmental reputation by creating a more welcoming climate for diverse student interests and career possibilities.

How can I support and talk with students I advise and mentor about doing an internship?

Students are often concerned their faculty advisor will not be supportive of doing an internship as part of their doctoral studies. In reality, many faculty are supportive, but may not know the best ways to discuss internships with their doctoral students.

Below are some ideas you might consider:

  • Start the conversation about doing an internship early in a student’s graduate career. This will help you and your students figure out an agreeable option and timing that will work given the other demands and degree requirements of the student’s training.
  • Embed intentional career conversations in mentoring plans and annual meetings. Ask students if an internship is something they are considering or would like to consider during their graduate studies.
  • Brainstorm with your students how they might connect the internship to their doctoral work (i.e. learning a new method, technique, or skill to bring back to a research group or finding opportunities to reach wider audiences).
  • Consider your network (program alumni, research collaborators outside the academy, etc.) and how it can be useful and expand through students' work and connections.
  • Keep students’ goals and career interests in mind, just as students should be keeping progress toward their degree and their commitments to labs and research in mind when planning for professional development activities like internships.

How can I talk to students who are interested in doing an internship?

Here are some examples of questions that might help move the conversation forward:

  • What has motivated you to consider doing an internship?
  • What do you hope to get out of doing an internship?
  • How will you manage ongoing research and progress toward your degree?
  • How does an internship fit into your career plan?
  • Have you taken advantage of campus resources for career coaching to explore your career goals and resources for doing an internship?
  • When do you want to do an internship, and for how long? Let’s talk about when the best time might be for both of us.
  • What might you bring back from your experience that would benefit your dissertation work?
  • For international students: Have you looked into what you need to do for curricular practical training or occupational practical training? Have you discussed options with the International Center?
  • How will you be funded?
  • What details have you worked out? What do you still need to figure out?

I do not have expertise in finding internships. Where can my students go for support?

Rackham students can receive Ph.D.-specific career coaching and advising around internships from:

  • Rackham’s embedded Ph.D. career counselors (students can make an appointment on Handshake).
  • If they are doctoral students in the medical school, the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies has 1:1 advising.

What does research show about the benefits of internships or impact on time to degree?

There have been several national studies that suggest internships do not increase a student’s time to degree, though this varies by department and program.

Regardless of time to degree, scholarship shows many other benefits of internships, including increased career confidence and skill development. The below studies may be of interest to faculty who wish to learn more about the scholarship on doctoral internships.

  • Balleisen, E. & Chin, R. (2022). The Case for Bringing Experiential Learning into the Humanities. Daedalus, 151(3), 138-152. https://doi.org/10.1162/DAED_a_01934
  • Brandt PD., Whittington D, Wood KD., Holmquist C, Nogueira AT., Gaines CH., Brennwald PJ., Layton RL. (2023) Development and Assessment of a Sustainable PhD Internship Program Supporting Diverse Biomedical Career Outcomes eLife 12:RP91011 https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.91011.1
  • Brandt PD., Varvayanis SS, Baas T, Bolgioni AF, Alder J, Petrie KA, Dominguez I, Brown AM, Stayart CA, Singh H, Van Wart A, Chow CS, Mathur A, Schreiber BM, Fruman DA, Bowden B, Wiesen CA, Golightly YM, Holmquist CE, Arneman D, Hall JD, Hyman LE, Gould KL, Chalkley R, Brennwald PJ, Layton RL. (2021) A cross-institutional analysis of the effects of broadening trainee professional development on research productivity. PLOS Biology https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000956
  • Carlin, D. (2002). Graduate Internship Programs in the Humanities: A Report from One University, Pedagogy, 2(2), 213-228. https://doi.org/10.1215/15314200-2-2-213
  • Chatterjee, D., Ford, J.K., Rojewski, J., & Watts, S. (2019). Exploring the Impact of Formal Internships on Biomedical Graduate and Postgraduate Careers: An Interview Study, Life Sciences Education, Vol. 18, No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.18-09-0199
  • Schnoes AM, Caliendo A, Morand J, Dillinger T, Naffziger-Hirsch M, Moses B, Gibeling JC, Yamamoto KR, Lindstaedt B, McGee R, O'Brien TC. Internship Experiences Contribute to Confident Career Decision Making for Doctoral Students in the Life Sciences. CBE Life Sci Educ. 2018 Spring;17(1):ar16. doi: 10.1187/cbe.17-08-0164. PMID: 29449270; PMCID: PMC6007763. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29449270/

Administrative Questions from Faculty, Programs, and Departments

Does Rackham have an academic policy on internships for programs or faculty?

No. Rackham does not have a policy around doctoral internships that programs are required to follow. However, students completing internships must adhere to Rackham’s policies on leave of absence and continuous enrollment.

Rackham encourages programs to establish their own policies for internships that align with their curriculum and degree requirements to allow for student participation in internships during graduate training.

What kind of guidelines should be included in a departmental policy on doctoral internships?

Each Rackham program of study has unique degree requirements and curricula. For this reason, Rackham encourages departments and programs to establish guidelines and policies governing internships for doctoral students.

Some questions you might consider in developing internship guidelines include:

  • Are both pre-candidates and candidates eligible to complete internships?
  • How much advance notice must students provide faculty and program staff when pursuing an internship that will take them away from their primary academic responsibilities?
  • How will students be able to make progress toward their degree while completing an internship?
  • How will the student cover tuition and benefits while completing an internship?
  • What are the minimum and maximum number of total hours students are allowed to complete an internship in a given semester?
  • Are students allowed to complete more than one internship during their course of study?
  • Are there certain times of year when internships are ideal from the program’s perspective?

For one example, see Computer Science and Engineering’s internship guidelines.

Do students go on a leave of absence to complete an internship?

No. Students cannot use a leave of absence to complete an approved internship.

Do students need to be enrolled while completing an internship?

In compliance with the fully-funded model and to facilitate the Continuous Enrollment policy for Ph.D. students, Rackham policy requires students to be enrolled during the Fall and Winter terms. This policy applies to students completing internships.

Do doctoral candidates need to register for 995 during their department-approved internship?

Yes, if they are completing an internship during the Fall or Winter term. Students need to be registered even if they are completing an external internship. The grade assigned to 995 would be satisfactory or unsatisfactory. The instructor needs to have some agreement with the student regarding what they'll be doing for degree progress and assign the grade accordingly. Per academic policy, grades of S or U are not factored into the student's cumulative GPA.

As a faculty advisor, how can I evaluate progress and assign a grade for 995 if the student is completing an internship during a given semester?

Rackham’s goal is to help students integrate professional development into their graduate studies as experiential learning opportunities that contribute to a student’s development.

To satisfy 995 during a Fall or Winter semester when a student is completing an internship, faculty could consider a reflection or task (e.g., a presentation, demonstration, etc.) that the student works on during their internship in order to assign the grade and verify a student’s work and development.

These kinds of assignments can help develop students’ presentation, data visualization, and communication skills. Please note that depending on the student’s internship organization, a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) might limit the specific details of what they can share after the internship.

What do international students need to do to complete an internship?

International students may participate in internships but will need appropriate and legal work authorization to do so.

For internships off-campus, international students should consult with the International Center to discuss what work authorization and Curricular Practical Training (CPT) course enrollment may be needed in order to participate in an internship well in advance of applying. Additional work authorization is not typically required for on-campus internship sites, but if international students hold other on-campus positions while completing an internship, they may still need CPT.

In all cases, international students should set up an appointment with the International Center to consult about their specific circumstances.

How far in advance of an internship start date do students need to apply for a RDIF to cover their stipend, tuition, or GradCare?

Rackham establishes its RDIF application deadlines at least two months prior to the start of the academic term during which the internship is scheduled to take place. This timing was suggested by faculty and programs, as it closely aligns with the graduate student instructor assignment process in many departments. This also allows Rackham staff to complete the application review process and ensure that funds are distributed in a timely manner.

RDIF deadlines are posted on our website, announced in the Rackham Graduate Student Newsletter, and shared in the Rackham Chairs and Directors Newsletter.

Outside of Rackham’s host organizations, students may find internships on their own. Such opportunities may or may not align with the academic calendar. It is important that students talk with faculty early about their interest in doing an internship so they can jointly determine the best timing.

Students must keep in mind their varied academic and research responsibilities when determining the best time in their studies to complete an internship.

Many companies and organizations will understand that students need to balance their academic progress. We encourage students to ask what flexibility their internship organizations might be able to offer.

Do students need department approval to complete an internship?

When applying for a RDIF, students are required to have approval from their primary academic advisor or director of graduate studies.

For internships students may choose to do independently of the RDIF program, departments may set their own guidelines, approval process, and funding mechanisms.

Does the department or program need to pay a student’s stipend, tuition, and GradCare if they are completing an internship?

It is the responsibility of the student, their advisor, and their program to determine how tuition, benefits, and any potential stipend will be paid well before the internship begins.

One option is for students to apply for support from RDIF, which is designed to cover doctoral students’ needs around fellowship stipends, tuition, and GradCare.

In general, students seeking to complete an internship without a RDIF will need to work with their department and faculty advisor to ensure their tuition, GradCare, and stipend (if internship is unpaid) are covered.

Tuition

Students must be enrolled during the Fall and Winter terms. Therefore, a student completing an internship during the Fall or Winter terms will need to have their tuition covered. Tuition is typically not charged during the Spring/Summer term, which can make it a better time for students to complete an internship.

A student who receives a RDIF for the Fall or Winter term will have their tuition paid by Rackham as part of the fellowship award.

If students are completing an internship without RIDF support during the Fall or Winter term, they will need to have their tuition paid from another source.

Stipend

Rackham students must comply with Rackham’s Additional Funding in Excess of Stipend Policy (Section IV).

It is the responsibility of the student and department to know the rules and policies for their funding and any funding or employment they hold while completing an internship.

As an example, Rackham’s policy is that if students are completing paid internships and receiving pay equivalent to the currently established fellowship rate, they would not receive an additional fellowship stipend. Students are expected to be fully engaged in their internship and making academic progress (e.g., coursework, research). Therefore, Rackham does not allow students with a RDIF to accept supplemental employment involving more than 10 hours of work each week while receiving RDIF fellowship support. Similarly, Rackham does not allow students to hold additional graduate student instructor (GSI), graduate student research assistant (GSRA), or graduate student staff assistant (GSSA) positions greater than a .25 appointment during the same term as RDIF.

GradCare

If a student is not receiving healthcare through their internship, it should be covered through another source. Students who receive RDIF support have their GradCare covered by Rackham as part of the fellowship award.

GradCare continues over the Spring/Summer term for students returning in the Fall Term, which can make Spring/Summer an ideal time to complete an internship if a student is not receiving RDIF support that covers their GradCare.

Are pre-candidates and candidates allowed to do internships?

Programs should set their own eligibility guidelines for doctoral students seeking to complete internships based on their curriculum and milestones for students.

Pre-candidates may complete an RDIF during the Spring/Summer, but only candidates are allowed to complete a RDIF during the Fall or Winter. This is because pre-candidates have significant coursework commitments during the academic year that would not be feasible to balance with an internship.

How can Rackham assist with supporting students seeking internships?

  • Rackham staff can do short presentations about the RDIF Program for students as a part of seminars or other departmental meetings. Request a presentation.
  • Students can set up 1:1 career coaching meetings with Rackham’s embedded University Career Center Graduate Career Counselors by making an appointment using Handshake.
  • Rackham’s internship guide provides learning modules and resources to support students in searching for internships, talking with their advisors about internships, and making the most of these learning opportunities as part of their doctoral studies.