Internship tips stave off job-pocalypse

Hello fellow and incoming Vassar Brewers! Ready or not, we will have to adjust our lifestyles back to the school grind on a dynamic campus. If you are new to the campus, then chances are there is something about college life that you find daunting. No need to fret. We—faculty, administrators and upperclassmen—have been there and are more than willing to ease your angst.

Regardless of whether your summers have been action-packed or relaxed in the past, you probably feel pressure to find research positions and internships now that you are in college. I hope my summer experience can shed light on the process of finding an internship and making the most of your summer.

Part A: The Thinking/Applying Stage

What to do: It may be tempting to throw yourself into the internship search and see what’s out there. Getting a feel for the internship scene is fine, but if you never transition from the window-shopping phase—which I did too late—you’ll get bad results. I think it’s easy to become stuck in this phase when you prioritize ticking off the internship or “career” box. I realized this when I talked to a family friend about my then-upcoming summer break. When I started vaguely rattling on about random, disconnected internships, she cut me off and said, “If you could do anything this summer, what would you want to do?” When she put it that way, it was easy. I wanted to work with kids, ideally in a teaching role, and maybe coach some basketball on the side.

I had approached the internship search from a terrible angle. There are so many fields and industries that can check a box on a resume, but there are only so many that align with your interests and ambitions. 

When to look: Typically, internship opportunities are posted from winter break to spring break, so many students start searching around December. Internships have a wide range of application deadlines, start/end dates and preferences for qualifications, so you’ll want to start sifting through early enough to find the right fit in time. Because my revelation about how I wanted to spend my summer came late, I was unable to apply to many internships for which I would have liked to have been considered. In the end, I was lucky to stumble across a flexible organization.

Where to look: The Career Development Office (CDO) offers several resources to find internships, as well as resume help, job interview advice, rehearsals and more. I found my internship at United South End Settlements (USES) in Boston via CEI Internships (formerly Career Education Institutes). USES is an organization that currently serves more than 300 underprivileged children and families in the South End with the goal of building a more inclusive community.

As a camp counselor, I worked in two different capacities depending on the day. When a group leader was out or when we were going on a field trip, I directly supervised the kids. ìSupervisingî is a mild word for a very hectic, draining duty. I was liable if they wandered off and got lost or hurt themselves by running around, climbing on things or fighting. Not to mention that I had other responsibilities, like mediating disputes, dishing out caution and discipline when necessary and trying to participate in other activities. Other days, I was simply a volunteer. This meant that I was unpaid and did not count toward the adult-to-kid ratio (the minimum is around 1:12/13). However, I had flexible hours and could help with more menial tasks, including cleaning, setting up meals, filling out forms, organizing/filing papers for an audit or acting like a substitute group leader.

Part B: The Doing Stage

Without talking too narrowly about children or education in particular, there are two things I wish I had done. First is taking initiative. I wanted to get involved with multiple groups of kids and run a basketball workshop, but somehow it didn’t occur to me that I should simply mention these ambitions to my supervisor. As it turns out, it didn’t take much to expand my role to work with other groups or to start the basketball workshop. Both my co-workers and I regretted that it didn’t happen sooner. I had the autonomy to carry out goals, but I instead expected opportunities to be handed to me.

I also wish I had been less afraid to ask questions. Rather than asking what to do in certain situations or inquiring about tips and philosophies on working with children, I quietly observed. In most cases, asking is simply faster and more effective. Why wait around observing your experienced co-workers when you could just ask them how they do things? What are you afraid of? Isn’t learning stuff you don’t know the point of internships? These are questions I would have liked to ask myself.

While I hope these tips help, remember that there are many more students, faculty members and administrators out there who can give you a hand. Funnily enough, the same tips that apply to finding internships probably apply to navigating your first year at college: Don’t be afraid to ask and take the initiative, because you aren’t supposed to know everything yet. Good luck with your first year at Vassar!

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