By Daphne Chapline ’22
*Note: This was written before the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic upset many students’ summer plans.
“Got any big plans for the summer?” is a question often asked of college students toward the end of the year. Last year, when I was asked, I would answer, “I’m interning at a pharmaceutical company in Boston—I’m very excited.” This was all true, but what I usually didn’t tell them was how nervous I was to start my internship.
The only true lab exposure I had was in my General Chemistry class, which was valuable of course, but was not nearly enough to make me feel comfortable stepping into the Cancer Bioscience lab at AstraZeneca. I thought that I would be in way over my head; I worried my skills and knowledge would be inadequate. Fortunately, I found these presumptions to be false, and a few weeks into my internship, I had several pieces of advice for students anxious about intimidating internships.
Firstly, when it comes to choosing a summer internship, opt for something that really piques your interest, regardless of how prestigious other options may be. The goal of your internship should be to learn and explore what you might want to do with your life, so focus less on how it might look on your résumé. Also, if you can, consider picking an internship that doesn’t take the whole summer. After finals and a full year of working hard in school, you will need a break. Make sure the internship is long enough so that you gain worthwhile experience from it, but give yourself some time to relax during the summer and simply turn off your brain. Finally, try selecting an internship in a city/place where you know someone, or at least at an internship where you know that you will be working with other interns your age. You might feel very isolated if you are working without anyone “in the same boat,” and it will be even more lonely if you don’t have anyone to spend time with when you get home.
Once you start the internship, do not be afraid to ask questions, even if you think they might be viewed as silly. Your coworkers were once in your position; they were not born with all the expertise and ability that they have now. I found that the people at my internship were always open to answering questions and were willing to guide me in the right direction. No one expects you to know everything, and no one expects you to execute things perfectly when you first start. You will adjust, and things that you find overwhelming at first will become routine; at least that is what I found with some of the lab techniques. Asking questions gives you the peace of mind needed to complete your work.
Additionally, show your interest not only by asking work-related questions of your coworkers, but also personal (just not too personal!) questions. How did they get where they are? How did they know what path would be best for them? What advice do they have looking back on their experience? Developing friendly relationships with the people you work with will give more opportunity to be guided and mentored by them. Also, obtaining a sense of what the people around you are like will help give you a better idea of whether the type of work is right for you or not. Plus, it might allow you to feel more comfortable around your coworkers and help to alleviate the stress of asking questions and not knowing what to do.
Lastly, take full advantage of your free time. If you are in a new city, try to get out and explore. With internships, it is fairly rare to take your work home, so you are able to spend time seeing and doing new things. It will give your experience more dimension and perhaps help take your mind off of things going on at work. In Boston, I really enjoyed all the museums and history; highlights of my time there included touring the USS Constitution, the Navy’s oldest commissioned ship still afloat, and Paul Revere’s house.
Basically, do not settle for a less exciting job just because you are scared that you won’t do well at another, more challenging one. It’s much more fulfilling in the long run to take a chance on yourself. As long as you keep an open mind and allow yourself to grow and make mistakes, it will be a valuable and formative experience. I am so thankful for the time I spent in Boston and for the people who gave me the space and patience to make errors and learn from them.