Welcome to Liz’s Lemonade Stand, where the lemons of life are twisted into the sweetest lemonade.
Any frequenter of The Prospect knows that we are huge fans of internships. Like, screaming-tweenaged-girls-at-a-One Direction-concert style fans of them. You may have heard of our very own internship program; type “internships” in our handy search bar and you’ll be showered with results written by our talented staff. This summer, I myself am interning and now I finally fully understand the hype about the importance of a solid internship.
First, a little background. I just finished my freshman year of college, pursuing a degree in Conservation and Restoration Ecology. Two-thirds of the way through second semester, my biology professor announced an internship (paid!) that another professor in the biology department had open. He described it as a lab and field technician position for an entomologist studying sustainable methods of pest control. Bugs and creepy crawly things are not my favorite things, but I jotted the contact information down anyway, more as an afterthought than a serious consideration. Then, a few days later late on a Sunday night, I found myself stressing out in my dorm over my totally unknown summer situation. At the time, I was already applying to jobs for the summer but hadn’t heard back on anything. I recalled the biology lecture and whipped out my notebook, flipping to the page where I had scrawled the information about the internship in the margins. I hastily tailored my CV, hoping it was acceptable (my brain was thinking more about sleep than applying for jobs at this point).
Lesson Number One: take the time to make sure your resume or CV is crisp and professionally fitted to the position you’re applying for.
I received an email the following morning asking if I’d be available for an interview. Immediately, I felt ashamed of the haste in which I’d submitted my application and CV. I also hoped that they wouldn’t judge me for the late hour at which I’d emailed it. In any event, I pushed these thoughts from my mind as I geared up for the interview.
I walked into the entomology professor’s office rather nervous, though at this point I should know that the vast majority of faculty isn’t out to shred you to bits. Diane, the entomologist, exuded the warmth of a summer day and the peacefulness of a quiet trail run. Her sunny smile set in a face creased with smile lines from years of fieldwork quickly calmed my nerves. I learned that her research focused on tree fruit entomology; as an Extension researcher, she studies different methods of insect pest control in orchards.
Lesson Number Two: just because an internship doesn’t sound like it will fit you like a glove doesn’t mean you should shy away.
I didn’t think entomology would be up my alley, but after speaking with Diane, I was intrigued by the interdisciplinary ties between my degree and her research. The good news came a few days later- I got the job! Suddenly, my uncertain summer just got buggy and I was thoroughly excited.
Lesson Number Three: there will be a learning curve.
Day one of my internship plunged me and three other undergrads right into the field, and then the following day we were back in the lab processing perishable samples. I certainly found myself a bit stressed by the flood of things to remember but learning to stay calm and get work done under pressure is just part of life. That first week of working was a whirlwind of learning lab procedures and gathering samples.
Lesson Number Four: don’t be afraid of asking questions!
It is much better to ask for clarification than it is to bumble around hoping that whatever you’re doing is correct. This is especially pertinent to any job/internship that deals with scientific material that will be published as a public resource, but the same applies to every field. The worst question is the one you don’t ask. Your supervisor or boss will be pleased that you care enough about your job to make sure you’re doing it correctly. After all, it really bites to be in the dark on a task and then find out you’ve mixed it all up. Your boss, be it a program coordinator at the city zoo or a professor on campus, has a wealth of knowledge and experience that they’ll love to share. Ask questions and you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience.
Lesson Number Five: recognize that an internship is a learning experience and you may find out that what you thought you were interested in all along actually isn’t what you’d made it out to be.
One of my coworkers is struggling with this, and her lack of interest in the job really reflects itself in the quality of her work and her interactions with the rest of the crew. It’s okay if you discover that you don’t care for your job. It’s much better to find that out now than it is a few years down the road once you’re out of college.
Interning is a fantastic opportunity to get your hands dirty in the field of your choice (for me, that metaphor is literal!), so try to intern at least once during your college career.