The Journey of an Intern
Via LinkedIn : Every college campus is united by the hunt for opportunities — everyone wants a fair chance and some level of post-graduation job security. An internship is the crown jewel that every college junior, proactive sophomore, worried senior and ambitious freshman strive towards.
Entry-level jobs were once realistically achievable by graduating seniors with little to no experience, but entry-level internships are now essentially a prerequisite to have any real chance at landing a job in your chosen field or industry. And now even some supposedly entry-level internships can only be won by students with some level of prior experience.
So when do you start? Senior year, when you’re most competitive? Junior year, when it’s most timely and best for landing a follow-up job? Freshman year, when you’re most enthusiastic?
I opted to start early. Really early. As an international student from Australia and aspiring Physicist, internships helped me set myself apart and gain admission to UCLA’s Class of 2020. I applied to every opportunity in physics I could find ever since my sophomore year of high school, and exposed myself to as much academia and research as possible.
I vividly remember my time as a presenter and tour guide at the Sydney Observatory, and a conversation with a curious young boy who asked “Why is the Milky Way like a pizza? Shouldn’t it be like Earth, a ball?” The answer involves angular momentum, but the answer wasn’t important – his question was. I looked at the room filled with people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, sexualities, and religions, yet he was the only one that asked a question of pure science. He questioned the nature of the universe, while the adults asked “what” and “how” questions that were always some variation of “what is that and how does it help us.” His aim was to understand the truth of the universe whereas the adults’ focused on humanity’s power over and role in the universe; no longer questioning, and simply accepting. It’s this distinction and those few moments faced with untainted scientific curiosity that ultimately affirmed my dedication to research and set me on the path that has since lead me around the world to UCLA. That moment changed my life.
And that’s the true value of an internship – not the extra lines on your resume or CV or the page-long reference you can now add to your collection, but the impact of the internship on you, your goals and the clarity of your ambitions.
This system is, of course, flawed. I was fortunate and privileged enough to have been considered competitive for my first internship despite being untested and inexperienced. I attended a well-known and respected school, received strong academic support from teachers, and had the initiative and courage to dare to fail and apply years before “my time.” However, as soon as you receive the first opportunity, every subsequent application is a cumulative step upwards to more challenging and exciting ground. In my subsequent internships, I have worked with accomplished researchers, gained invaluable technical skills, and proved my capability and dependability as a researcher to not only myself but also mentors and employers.
Opportunities may come your way, but it is self-forged initiative and the courage to throw away ego and pride for at least a moment, admit faults, seek improvement and risk failure that unveils truly rewarding opportunities.
The final ingredient to securing opportunities is a willingness to take risks. There’s always a level of risk associated with applying to anything, especially if social norms are being subverted or challenged and failure could act as fuel to sustain stereotypes. I was an Asian female high school sophomore applying for internships that typically accepted White male high school juniors or seniors. Even when I graduate I’ll be entering a field and industry in which I will be a minority. I have already faced varying degrees of sexism, racism, anger, sheer disbelief, and confusion when I have stated physics as my major and physics research as a desired career, and there was a sense that I had to gain permission in order to shatter the expectations that social stereotypes, gender roles and culture have set. I, fortunately, didn’t struggle with these expectations and had little respect for them since they failed all tests of reason and logic and were clear impedances to scientific, societal, and human progress, but I still heard the voices of doubters and those that hoped for my failure. Now, when I no longer sense a need for permission and after some success and experience, I have finally received permission from, well, no-one to chase after my dreams.
The truth is that you don’t need permission. From anyone.
Whether it’s an internship, your dream job, a career change, or anything else bound solely by the unspoken and murky rules of social convention, there is actually nothing stopping you from going after your unconventional dreams and aspirations other than the strength of your own will and courage.
So to those of you out there with dreams – any dream – I would say one thing: go for it! Don’t let the naysayers discourage you, graciously yet carefully accept constructive criticism, push aside ego and pride, work hard, and your dream is possible. To employers, companies, managers and individuals in positions of power: I understand that an unconventional intern or employee choice may be considered a risk, but there can be no greatness or meaningful success without the benefits of diverse perspectives and expertise on productivity and workplace happiness.
Take risks, dare to fail, challenge yourself, and your dreams will be within reach.
In the wise words of Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Source : LINKEDIN | The Journey of an Intern
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