Research intern discusses merits of field work experience

Fiona Hart ’18 is an intern at the Health Quest Division of Clinical Research. She got her internship outside the Field Work Office, but applied to get credit for her research through the office. Photo courtesy of Sarah Henry
Fiona Hart ’18 is an intern at the Health Quest Division of Clinical Research. She got her internship outside the Field Work Office, but applied to get credit for her research through the office. Photo courtesy of Sarah Henry
Fiona Hart ’18 is an intern at the Health Quest Division of Clinical Research. She got her internship outside the Field Work Office, but applied to get credit for her research through the office. Photo courtesy of Sarah Henry

Allowing Vassar students to gain experience in the fields of their respective intended majors while earning academic credit and get­ting involved in the Poughkeepsie and Hudson Valley communities, the Field Work Office has been an important facet of Vassar academia since 1949.

Field work consists of both the internship it­self and an academic complement agreed upon by the individual student and their faculty ad­visor. Students tend to work twice per week, with the hours totaling 40 for a half credit and 80 for a full credit. Placement opportunities in­clude Community and Governmental Services, Cultural Agencies, Education, Environmental Agencies and Farming, Health Services and Vet­erinarians, Legal Services, Media and Commu­nications and Business and Financial Services. Field work generally begins with a conversation with Interim Director of Field Work and Lectur­er in Psychology Nicholas A. de Leeuw about one’s academic interests, goals and available opportunities.

However, if this seems daunting too, there is another way: the Career Development Office also helps students secure internships in New York City and elsewhere via the VCLink data­base, and many students arrange self-placed in­ternships. Fiona Hart ’18 is interning at Health Quest Division of Clinical Research. Hart ex­plained, “I actually applied for their summer fellowship and because of scheduling conflicts I was not able to take it, but instead was offered an internship for the winter. I got the intern­ship independent of the Field Work Office, but I reached out to them to get field work credit at Vassar.”

Although Hart stated that her field work was important in that it afforded her experience in the medical field and medicinal branches that she’s interested in, it was pretty clear from her excitement at recounting the experience that it’s something she’s truly passionate about.

“Pretty soon we’re going to start shadow­ing doctors in the exam room but also possibly observing surgery…but you have to have blood work and tests to prove you’re healthy and the paper work can take a while.” Although her pa­perwork may still be in the works, Hart has by no means been idle. She is currently working on the logistical side of clinical research.

Shadowing doctors is not the only opportuni­ty made available to Hart through her internship. Her main contact, Dr. Portelli at Vassar Hospital, is a Crisis-Response Journal editor. So during down time and outside of office hours, Hart and her fellow interns have been exploring topics on their own to incorporate into a blog post. “This is all in the hopes that our post will get enough hits to be published!”

Beyond the value of the experience itself, field work also exposes Vassar students to great peo­ple working in their field of interest. Hart attests, “My favorite field work moment so far has been connecting with Dr. Portelli at Vassar Hospital. He’s so brilliant and warm and truly wants to help his interns succeed. He’s not just a supervi­sor in the workplace, but a mentor to all of us at Health Quest.” If you’re concerned about feeling alone and out of place in a field work placement, rest assured. In Hart’s case, “There are three oth­er Vassar students and one alumna also at Health Quest this semester.”

Sarah Dolan ’18 also found that connecting with people was a major bonus of her field work last semester with Mental Health America of Dutchess County. Most of her job was office work and client outreach, matching volunteers with people using MHA services. However, she said, “My favorite part was working at Compeer events. Most of the time, I communicated with everyone over the phone, and it was really great to meet all of the volunteers and clients in per­son. Getting to meet the people that were in­volved with MHA and Compeer made my field work experience a lot more meaningful. I wasn’t just doing office work and calling strangers, I was working to improve a program to help peo­ple that I knew and cared about.”

Elena Schultz’s ’19 [full disclosure: Elena is a Co-Editor for the Arts section of The Miscellany News] experience with field work helped to con­firm her choice in majors and her passion for the field she wanted to work in. This past summer, Schultz worked as an editorial intern for a maga­zine in her hometown in Wisconsin. “My job was primarily to write articles, and because the mag­azine is a community, culture and arts publica­tion, most of my pieces were about local people, businesses or events.” Besides gaining work ex­perience, she also learned more about the pub­lication industry. She added, “My editor and su­pervisor was incredibly helpful in explaining the process of creating a publication from scratch.” She also got unique experiences and opportuni­ties through this field work. Schultz said, “One of my favorite moments this summer was when I interviewed the lead singer of Phox, a band that was touring the area and that I’ve admired since middle school. It was rewarding to write about something I really cared about.” Schultz recom­mends field work for “anyone still unsure about what they’re interested in studying–my sum­mer experience made me much more confident about my decision to major in English.”

As a whole, field work is a highly recommend­ed experience, and it’s not limited to upperclass­men. Field work becomes available to every student starting the spring semester of their freshman year. Hart remarks, “Field work can sound scary because it’s not a structured course on campus, and it’s different for every student. But if you connect with the right organization and reach out to a sponsor you feel comfortable with, it’s a great way to get experience and build your resume!”

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