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Internships have long been a staple for undergraduate students looking for real-world experience to complement their university education. The Faculty of Arts now has a dedicated internship office that helps match students to potential work experiences in Montreal and around the world.
Internship officer Anne Turner said that her office is the result of a provincial grant that came two years ago that the Faculty of Arts decided would go toward expanding the internship system. When Turner arrived a year ago, there was little in place for Arts students wishing to do an internship.
"There was nothing here — students were finding internships on their own. It was happening at McGill but there was no structure. There were two departments that had credit courses for internships: art history and political science. However, there was no support system, no resource base," she said.
Turner set about to change that. She met with every department head in the faculty to determine their needs. She hired 21 students from 19 different departments to find and compile internship possibilities in their disciplines. This information has been compiled onto a website — which Turner said is one of the most comprehensive in the country — that lists opportunities available.
The department-focused approach is necessary for an effective program, said Turner.
"The faculty is so varied — from English, to anthropology, to French, to Jewish studies — and each department has specific needs," she said.
The work has paid off. Turner is happy to report that the majority of departments now allow internships to count for academic credit. In most cases, students will need to get approval from their department, and usually complete a research paper that draws on their experience. In addition, the faculty is in the process of developing an upper-level course that would allow students to gain up to three academic credits for their internship.
One student doing an internship for credit is Laura Gibson, who is completing a double major in anthropology and humanistic studies. She's been an assistant curator at the Redpath Museum since September.
"Right now I'm working on a display on African hairstyles. That involves researching the topic and picking the objects I want to display," said Gibson.
Gibson said that the work is good experience for her, as she might want to stay in the field after her graduation, and it affords her an opportunity to enhance her studies.
"I'm working hands-on with artifacts I might have studied before," she said.
Internships are often unpaid, which means that it is often difficult, if not impossible, for students to participate — especially if it means relocating for months on end.
"They're willing to work all year in order to get this experience," said Turner. Her office is trying to raise funds for internship scholarships, and McGill recently received its first scholarship for this purpose — the Arsenault Foundation Scholarship for Peace Studies.
Providing support for internships is becoming a necessity in higher education. Many American schools have funding programs available already, and the University of Toronto has $1 million for its international development studies students to draw on for internships. Turner said that it is important for McGill to compete.
"We want our students to be out there."
For more information see www.mcgill.ca/arts-internships/.