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International PhD student networks his way to getting industry experience in part-time internship

Working with local engineering firm, Payam Zamani analyzes power systems to integrate wind energy into existing networks
March 30, 2017
Martin Rheault, director of wind, solar and storage at BBA, with Payam Zamani, a PhD candidate who is doing a Transformative Talent Internship at BBA to enhance his skills and better understand the energy industry.

Martin Rheault, director of wind, solar and storage at BBA, with Payam Zamani, a PhD candidate who is doing a Transformative Talent Internship at BBA to enhance his skills and better understand the energy industry. 

Graduate students are regularly advised to participate in networking events to develop contacts that could help with their career awareness. For Payam Zamani, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering, networking really worked.

Zamani met Martin Rheault, the director of wind, solar and storage for engineering firm BBA, at an energy conference in 2016 and their conversation turned into a Transformative Talent Internship.

“BBA was exactly what I was looking for,” says Zamani.  “They were working on renewable energy resources ... which is pretty hot and new topic in the Alberta electric system.”

Chatting with more experienced professionals opens opportunities

Zamani went to the conference with the goal of meeting people working in the energy sector and seeing who might be interested in hosting him for a future internship. He knew an internship was a good option for him. He was looking for an opportunity to expand his skills and get some work experience before finishing his PhD.

“I knew that I have the technical background,” says Zamani. “I have the solid academic background by doing (my) PhD and master’s. I just need to gain some industry experience. I need to add that to my resume to get the leverage when applying for future jobs.”  

As an international student, he needed something flexible — to continue with his research, meet his goal to complete his PhD in March 2017, and to be within study permit guidelines.

“It was exactly what I needed,” says Zamani of his internship. “I wanted to know what was going on in industry and what are the challenges industry is facing. It’s really good to look at things from a different angle. I now have some great ideas for more research, for papers.”

Rheault said Zamani’s problem-solving approach made him an attractive hire. “He came with solutions,” says Rheault. “He came with a toolbox (of skills). He’s using the skills he learned in grad school and was able to apply them right away in our business.”

Building a network to explore career and internship opportunities

“Before going to the conference, I started doing some research to know who’s going … who’s the best to talk to you, and I actually had very interesting conversations,” Zamani said.

Zamani started his internship in December 2016, seven months after meeting BBA at the conference. Now, nearing the end of his internship and preparing to finish his degree, Zamani has some advice for other graduate students.

“Be in touch with the companies you think are good place for you to do an internship,” he said. “Sometimes you do networking … but you don’t get the job offer, you don’t get the internship right away. So build your network. And then just wait for the right moment. And the thing is that when it is the right moment, you have to be ready.”

Using the university's career development programs helps find and secure internships

Before starting his internship search, Zamani reached out to Career Services for some help honing his resume and LinkedIn profile. He wanted to be ready when he reached out to the contacts he met at the conference. He took the time to get it right.

“Students should start preparing their documents early and expect that it will take time to secure a work placement, whether that’s internship or permanent employment,” said Stephanie Warner, PhD career development specialist in Career Services who met with Zamani.

Training is available to help graduate students find and even create their own internships. A new workshop this week is a collaboration between the Faculty of Graduate Studies, My GradSkills, Career Services, and the Graduate Students’ Association, and aims to equip prospective graduate student interns with the skills they need to find and secure skills-based internships. Contact for more information on how to participate in a Transformative Talent Internship.