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Student internship experiences: learning about the workplace

Sarah M. Zehr (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois, USA)
Russell Korte (The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA)

Education + Training

ISSN: 0040-0912

Article publication date: 4 February 2020

Issue publication date: 6 April 2020




The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of engineering student interns, as well as the perceptions of internship supervisors.


The study was designed to investigate internships as a complex social phenomenon in the field, through the use of an inductive qualitative design grounded in a naturalistic paradigm guided by theories of learning and socialisation. The researchers used semistructured interviews of 24 engineering student interns and 10 internship supervisors at various organisations.


Students reported varying levels of learning about how a company works and how to work with others in a professional environment as the results of their internships. The researchers found that students did not look for connections between the classroom and the workplace, making it difficult to apply skills from one setting to the other. Supervisors received very little training, if any, prior to supervising interns. They were unsure how much work students could handle during an internship and perceived that making sure students had a positive experience was part of their role. In addition, internship goals for companies and educational institutions did not necessarily align.

Practical implications

Both students and supervisors would benefit from more formal preparation or training prior to the start of an internship. Educational institutions and companies would also benefit by collaborating to better understand each other's goals and coordinating student experiences to foster learning and positive outcomes.


This paper emphasises the importance of helping students understand the nature of work and the importance of developing relationships in the workplace.



Zehr, S.M. and Korte, R. (2020), "Student internship experiences: learning about the workplace", Education + Training, Vol. 62 No. 3, pp. 311-324.



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