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Lessons Learned from My Summer Internship

Posted on September 27, 2020

Although I wish I could change SO many things about this summer, like not being able to work from my internship office or be able to go anywhere outside of New Jersey’s confinements, I have to acknowledge the ways in which this summer has been exactly what I needed. To be frank, this was tough. So many people talk about the resilience that we as college students and young adults exhibit, but I don’t think anyone talks nearly enough about the collective trauma that we are living through. For me, work productivity and resilience were not my greatest strength. Finding a way to work productively among all the noise and distractions of my house and this crazy world often escaped me. I also wasn’t too happy with my internship either. There is such huge expectation put on college students to get these summer internships, network the heck out of it, and thrive. Is that really what it’s like, you may ask? For some, like me, no.

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For a good while, I was straight-up sad. Working from my couch and not being able to meet any of my new colleagues in person was weird. Building a rapport and relationship with colleagues during this new experience was even weirder. I was working in a department that I did not have a great interest in, but pursued anyway out of necessity to get an internship that would count for credit towards my major. Boy, did I learn my lesson! That’s where lesson number one comes in: do not apply for positions or opportunities that you know in your heart you are not interested in. I know we all do it, usually out of necessity, for reasons like I did, but it’s truly not worth your time and energy to be miserable over something that could have been avoided. I committed out of desperation, but new opportunities pop up more often than we may think. Keep searching until you find something that truly interests you. You’ll thank yourself later!

Once I got honest with myself and owned up to the fact that I really was not happy with where I was at and the work I was doing, it took me some time to figure out what I should even do about it. I was a newly hired intern who never met any of my colleagues and supervisors in-person. I felt so strange about broaching the subject of my unhappiness, thinking it would reflect badly upon myself and my performance. Don’t get me wrong - I was still doing my work to the best of my ability in the department I was hired in, but I knew there had to be more in it for me. Did I mention I was an unpaid intern? As an intern (especially an unpaid one), YOU are supposed to get as much out of your experience as you are giving to the organization/company. That takes me to lesson number two: find a way to speak your truth! I finally found the opportunity to speak with another colleague I was comfortable with, telling her about my career interests, my interests in her work, and what I wanted to get out of my internship. She presented the opportunity for me to work with her without me even asking, so I was able to get experience in my original internship department, as well as the one I really wanted to work in but didn’t originally get hired for. It made all the difference, and now I am coming away from this internship with the confidence that I did all I could to get the best out of this experience and make it work for me. Just by taking that initial step, doors are already opening in areas that I’m super passionate about (social justice and education).

That leads me to my third and final lesson: evaluate your career goals along the course of your internship/work experience and be honest with yourself. Getting the job is one thing, but it was important for me to ask myself along the way: Do I really want to be here? How is this internship going to help me get to where I want to go? If you find that your job/internship is no longer making sense for you, say something first to a colleague or supervisor to try and make it work for you. If it doesn’t, consider leaving. It may seem horrible (I know because I’ve left a contractual internship in the past and I was so scared), but it’s worth it at the end of the day if you are moving closer to where you want to be in your future. I wholeheartedly believe that life is too short to be unhappy in the areas that you can change. So get to making that change so that everything you do works in the best interest of YOU!

Author: Olivia O'Leary

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