University of Calgary
UofC Navigation

Philosophy PhD candidate shows value of arts degree in internship

Robert Armstrong used the skills he developed in grad school to help energy company make connections
October 20, 2016
Grad student skills such as communication and teaching, logic, leadership, and research all played a role in the internship. Pixabay photo by Unsplash

Grad student skills such as communication and teaching, logic, leadership, and research all played a role in the internship. Pixabay photo by Unsplash

What kind of a job can a philosophy PhD get you? Quite an interesting one, says Robert Armstrong, a PhD candidate at the University of Calgary.

Using skills in other contexts

Armstrong recently completed a three-month Transformative Talent Internship with Geometric Energy. As an Intellectual Property intern, he used his understanding of ethics, and political and legal philosophy to consult on and initiate projects with partner companies. He gave feedback on prototypes. And, along with using his deductive reasoning and logic skills honed in his PhD, Armstrong used his research and writing skills to find and apply for grant funding for the company’s projects.

“My education played a big role,” Armstrong said of finding and succeeding in his internship. It was a combination of his skills and interests from within and outside of his PhD studies that led him to learn more about patents and the energy industry.

Throughout his internship, Armstrong used skills developed in his graduate program that he believes all graduate students develop – whether they are in arts or sciences. Skills such as communication and teaching, logic, leadership, and research all played a role in his daily work.

Building connections for future collaboration

A large part of the internship involved making and developing connections with other organizations, including the National Research Council. Communication skills were key to understanding needs and goals. The projects and collaborations Armstrong worked on have motivated him to pursue more areas of research and may open up more doors for his future career.

"There were lots of opportunities for networking," Armstrong said. "I was able to make valuable connections and work with some interesting organizations, such as the NRC."

After three months of work over the summer, Armstrong believes he not only learned a lot and made valuable connections, but also made a positive contribution toward achieving the company’s goals. “Having someone with advanced education and specialized skills adds a lot of value to the company,” he said.

Enhancing graduate student progress

Now that he’s returned to his research, Armstrong’s supervisor has noticed a marked difference in Armstrong’s skills.

“The internship allowed Rob to use the skills that he already had–writing, analytic thinking–for completely different uses than academic,” said Dr. Ann Levey, Armstrong’s graduate supervisor. “This made a terrific difference to his ability to produce dissertation writing.”

“While I was initially unsure about him taking time away from research and dissertation writing,” Levey said, “I think that the experience has made him better able to do what he needs to do in order to finish a PhD.”

Along with his enhanced ability to produce writing, Levey recognizes that the internship experience and connections Armstrong made have opened up viable career options for him. The skill-building, skill awareness, and possible career opportunities have helped her understand how internships can help Arts students of all fields understand their career viability.

“I think that internships are particularly valuable for Arts students who want to work outside of academia,” Levey said. “The internship accomplishes a couple of things. It shows the student that the skills they have learned in an academic program are transferable to other contexts, [and] it can teach them new skills that may not be as salient in an academic context.”

Graduate students interested in learning more are invited to an information session on internships at Invest In Your Future: A Career Symposium for Graduate Students on Nov. 9. Learn more about the free symposium and register to attend here.

Transformative Talent Internships are skills internships for graduate students. For more information on the Transformative Talent Internship and eligibility to participate, visit the website