The time of year to begin searching for summer placements has come, and many students are already in the midst of their searches. But for those who still have yet to begin the quest for their ideal internship, it can feel like a daunting task.
The Career Development Office (CDO) can help students find a host of different types of internships, such as working for a nonprofit or research experience with the sciences, to less standard options, such as traveling to France to learn the art of cheese making.
Director of the CDO Stacy Bingham stressed that while students may feel pressure to secure an internship, other summer experiences may be equally beneficial. She also said that the difference between internships and other summer experiences is unclear in terms of how future employers might see it, and that it can be difficult to discern whether or not a summer experience was truly an internship on a résumé.
“At the bottom line,” she said, “if it’s an experience that allows the student to either take what they’re learning in the classroom and put it into practice, develop a new or existing skill set, or even figure out what they don’t want to do, then it is a meaningful experience.” She also made it clear that not all internships are created equal. Some may not provide students with the opportunity to perform meaningful, substantive work.
Alaina Wilson ’16, a Greek and Roman Studies major, spent a month with the San Martino Archaeological Field School in Torano di Borgorose, Italy and participated in the excavation of a Roman Villa last summer.
Wrote Wilson, “The experience I gained was more valuable for me than any I would have gained from an internship because the fieldwork gave me a new perspective on Greek and Roman Studies and helped me start to determine my future professional goals.”
Wilson’s experience echoes Bingham’s sentiment that it is not necessarily important whether the experience is officially called an internship.
Regardless of what a student wants to do with the summer, now is the time to start the search. Bingham stated that it may already be on the later end for some industries, such as financial services and consulting, but that for most industries, the bulk of deadlines are in February and March, and opportunities are still available.
According to Bingham, “It is not as if internship postings to VCLink will dry up completely, but they do become more scarce, so we may have to think about more creative solutions.” However, there may be a few straggling deadlines in April.
However, if you are starting the process now, a great place to commence the search for a summer opportunity and get a feel for what the possibilities are, is with an online internship database, such as VCLink, where employers can post opportunities for the Vassar community, or the Liberal Arts Career Network (LACN).
“One of Vassar’s greatest assets for career development [is] our alumnae/i,” said Bingham. They can be helpful for students that are interested in industries that can be difficult to break into, such as publishing or financial services.
The Alumni Network includes information provided by alumnae/i regarding their present place of employment. This resource may be useful if students know where they would like to work, in which industry, or even if they have a specific employer in mind. Students may use this resource to contact alumnae/i and speak to them about their career path or other information that may be helpful in the process.
Alumnae/i networking is not the only type of networking that may be useful: Some students do find summer opportunities through family members or college faculty.
For instance, Veronica Peterson ’14, an anthropology and Chinese double major, learned about the Undergraduate Research Summer Institute (URSI) through her adviser, who is also the professor that she worked under in China two summers ago while participating in URSI, as well as from observing posters in the chemistry department. Similarly, she found out about the Qingdao University program through professors in the Chinese department and stated,
“The professors in the language classes take time to describe the program and encourage students to go.”
Bingham recommended using an approach that covers all of the bases, which is often most successful. This may involve using VCLink and LACN to locate advertised opportunities, going on the alum directory and looking in industries or organizations of interest and approaching them to see if they can make use of an intern, even if they are not advertising any positions. This type of approach may be overwhelming, but it can yield useful results.
As Bingham put it, “There’s a perseverance aspect to the internship search that is pretty important.” This fact is also apparent in the number of applications which students may be completing. “It is not uncommon for students to apply to up to 20 or more internships for a summer, especially depending on how competitive the industry might be,” said Bingham.
The summer after her freshman year, Peterson spent in the URSI program on an archeology project in Henan, China with a Vassar professor and two other students working in a lab analyzing pig and boar teeth from a recent archeology project. The summer after her sophomore year, she participated in an immersion program at Quindao University. This past summer, she interned at a wealth management company in her hometown in New Hampshire.
Peterson’s said her experiences in China were beneficial because they allowed her to experience archeology hands on and provided the opportunity to learn about the actual experience of working in the field . The endeavor also led to a drastic improvement in her language skills as well as an increased understanding of the local culture.
Besides the fact that Peterson’s internship at the wealth management company was paid, she said it also was an invaluable education in office culture and a chance to meet some really great people. However, not everyone has such positive experiences, and if the intern feels taken advantage of, the CDO is available to discuss how to remedy the situation, through conversations with the supervisor or by leaving the position if necessary.
Not only should a student’s internship be a learning experience, but the process of applying to internships itself should be a learning experience. “We see the internship search process as an opportunity for education. Through the internship search process, students learn how to put together a résumé, write cover letters, how to make applications and, potentially, secure references or letters of recommendation.” Therefore, the process provides practical training in tasks necessary for securing jobs and graduate study opportunities.
Once you have secured a summer internship, don’t be discouraged if you are not financially able to afford working for free for a whole summer . There are funds and fellowships available to students, such as the Internship Grant Fund (IGF). The fund consists of a total of approximately 40 to 60 thousand dollars each year and grants are awarded in various amounts to meet the needs of students.
Bingham stated, “IGF funding may range from 250 dollars for a student who’s maybe living at home but commuting and needs gas money to $2500 for students who are living in a city that’s not home that need to really defray the cost of living.” There are also some smaller niche funds which may be need- or merit-based.
The Fellowship Office’s website provides resource for students who are attempting to fund their summer opportunities.
According to Lisa Kooperman, the Director of the Office for Fellowships and Pre-Health Advising, “Some of the opportunities you’ll find on my page are administered through other departments on campus, I am publicizing them on their behalf so you might check with those folks directly.”
Peterson said her experiences have contributed to her understanding of what makes her feel fulfilled in life. She said, “I’ve learned that as long as I’m in a place to be learning and experimenting I will be happy.”