Boilers Work Internship Program helps graduate students gain real-world work experience, soft skills for future employment

Picture of Claire Haffley, a master’s student in Public Health and 2021 Boilers Work Internship Program award recipient Claire Haffley, a master’s student in Public Health, received a Boilers Work Internship award, allowing her to pursue an unpaid summer internship with the Indiana Department of Health during the summer of 2021.

Every year, as a new cohort of graduate students prepare to start their journey at Purdue, Dr. Linda Mason, Dean of the Graduate School, poses to them this question: “There are over 11,500 graduate students at the West Lafayette campus alone. How will you set yourself apart?” The answer? Professional Development.

When students pursue higher education, they often do so with the expectation of preparing for their future careers; however, research conducted by the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities suggests that students may not be leaving college with the skills that they need to excel in the workforce. In fact, employers identified 11 areas in which students lack preparations for the workforce, including understanding their role in the workplace, having realistic career expectations, managing conflict, accepting critique, listening and communicating effectively, and building professional relationships.

Often, graduate students are focused on building hard skills when pursuing their degrees. These are skills that are specific to their area of study. While hard skills are of vital importance, it is the soft skills that employers indicate are lacking in graduates, like leadership, communication, problem-solving, and teamwork. So, how can students go about building their soft skills while in graduate school? Professional Development.

In addition to offering 325+ free professional development workshops designed to help graduate students build these soft skills, the Graduate School’s Office of Professional Development also encourages graduate students to participate in the Boilers Work Internship Program. The Boilers Work internship program provides ten graduate students per year with a $4,000 stipend to pursue an unpaid summer internship. This program is intended to help Purdue graduate students garner real-world work experience, refine soft skills, and establish career connections prior to graduation.

Last year, the Boilers Work Internship program supported ten students from eight different graduate programs, allowing them the opportunity to pursue an unpaid summer internship in their field. One such student is Claire Haffley, a master’s student in Public Health. Claire interned with the Indiana Department of Health (IDOH). She said of her experience, “I and the other interns had a shadowing project, where we spent time getting to know 20-25 IDOH employees to learn their roles… I have a much better understanding of how a health department works due to the shadowing that I did, and I feel more educated on what a career would look like at a health department.”

Rachel Zhang, a Ph.D. student in Hospitality and Tourism Management and Boilers Work Internship Program finalist, said, “Academic researchers in the hospitality and tourism industry always face the question: ‘I didn’t know that you need a Ph.D. in your field. What exactly do you work on?’ Whether in jest or not, I remind questioners that a hospitality and tourism researcher needs to remain connected to the industry and be informed about the challenges that practitioners face. With the sponsorship of the Boilers Work Internship Program, I was able to do just that.”

Rachel Zhang, a Ph.D. student in Hospitality and Tourism Management and Boilers Work Internship Program 2021 award recipient.

Zhang interned at Beyond, a leading revenue management company for short-term rentals, as a Data Science Researcher. She shared that one of the most valuable aspects of her internship was working collaboratively with many different departments to conduct her research. Zhang said of her experience, “It was because of the diverse background of Beyond’s employees that I could always find sparks for my project… Overall, I am grateful for the opportunity the Boilers Work Internship Program provided for me.”

Professional development initiatives, like the Boilers Work Internship Program, allow Purdue graduate students the opportunity to build the soft skills that employers have indicated are lacking among graduates, while also gaining real-world work experience in their fields. This program, in addition to the plethora of other opportunities available through the Office of Graduate Professional Development, helps Purdue graduate students set themselves apart from their peers, and successfully enter the workforce.

Writer: Brittany Ledman, 


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