Please note that this post reflects solely the opinions of the author; internship experiences may vary across years, organizations, and students.
When I first heard that the internship postings for NPSIA were ready in November, I rushed to the resource centre to see the options that were available to me. Like so many of the other students who signed up to participate in the program, I was eager to get out of the classroom and gain some real world experience.
Flipping through the options that were available, there were positions with think-tanks, NGOs, a couple senators, and even the NPSIA holy grail: The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (DFATD).
There was one organization in particular that caught my eye, however. I recognized the name of one of the organizations, Canada 2020. One of my professors had mentioned them to me outside of class as a classy organization that was doing good work.
On my professor’s recommendation and a gut feeling that I just couldn’t explain, I put Canada 2020 as the first of my five choices. I attached a cover letter with my resume to try and showcase my previous experience so that I would get chosen for the spot.
When I found out that I’d received my top choice, I was thrilled! I got my number one! I thought. Soon enough, Canada 2020’s Communications & Program Coordinator Alex Paterson got in touch with me. Though the internship didn’t begin in earnest until January, he invited me to come downtown for coffee to meet the team and discuss what I’d be doing starting in January.
I soon found myself in my best suit (well only suit, really) on Dalhousie Street, somewhere between the ByWard market and DFATD. I was formally introduced to Alex and Diana Carney, who was Canada 2020’s vice-president of research. Over coffee I got to know them both a bit and we worked out the details of the internship for the winter.
When I began in January, I started researching one of Canada 2020’s five areas of focus—and luckily, one of my own: how Canada should engage with Asia. Working with Diana, Alex, and later with NPSIA graduate Claude Dumulon-Lauzière, I was in charge assisting with the preparation of a background paper that would serve as a primer for a panel discussion in March on how Canada should engage with Asia’s cities.
While the research part of the internship had the substance, helping out with the events had the style. At the end of every month, Canada 2020 hosted a panel discussing one of their five areas of focus.
The panels are held at the Château Laurier, and the speakers who come to discuss the issues are top-notch. I barely managed to keep my cool at the carbon event when Jean Charest, one of the panelists, came up to me and asked me for directions.
That wasn’t the first time I was star-struck at Canada 2020, and it wouldn’t be the last.
But encounters with political celebrities aside, Canada 2020 was the first opportunity that I’d had to get real work experience. Twice a week, I was working in a policy environment, observing meetings on planning and strategy (not as cool as it sounds, but still pretty cool), and putting the knowledge and skills that I had learned in the classroom into practice in the real world.
The cherry on top was that at the end I had the chance to sit down and chat with some of team members who I’d worked most closely with and ask them for career advice. Having the chance to learn from them about the career path I wished to pursue was the most valuable part of my internship experience.