By Srushti Dhoke (CAS’22, Economics/Mathematics)
I’m an international student, and I’ve had some internship experience back home in India and recently also in the US. Looking back, I couldn’t help but notice that there are a few recurring things that I and other people I know had to deal with. Mistakes were made, experience was gained and lessons were learnt. Here’s a list of the top 5 lessons that my internships taught me (with real life examples and instances) that could perhaps help you in your next internship experience:
It’s okay to not know exactly what you’re doing
What happened: I was given a task on the very first day and I got it completely wrong, I wasn’t even close.
What I learned: Remember that you are there to learn and explore, that’s kind of the point of internships. It might be a scary process, but everything you do helps you become better. Try not to feel overwhelmed by how much everyone seems to know, they’ve probably been in their field for years (which is why they’re on the other side of the table). They know that you don’t know. They knew it when they hired you. Chances are pretty high that they were once where you are now.
Be prepared to the best of your ability
What happened: Our team went to a meeting expecting to have a casual chat, but instead had to face a conference-table meeting and a volley of questions.
What I learned: Assume nothing. The thing about conversations is that they can take any course spontaneously, and so it is best to be prepared for all scenarios. It always helps to send a follow-up email, or if appropriate, take a sheet of paper with your agenda of the meeting and leave it with them so they can remember to follow up. But if it doesn’t work out perfectly, don’t worry! You learnt something for the next time!
Be ready to try new things
What happened: I started at an internship position thinking I would be sitting at a desk but I ended up pitching the program we were working on to school administrations. I started at another internship thinking the same, but was asked to roam the streets to look for a story for a popular newspaper.
What I learned: Be flexible about your employer’s expectations from you and yours from them. Things are rarely ever set in stone, but as long as you are not afraid to subject yourself to whatever is needed of you, you’ll gain a wider range of experiences, which is never a bad thing.
What happened: Being an introvert, I have to push myself to interact with people, especially at work since I don’t initially know them very well. Eventually, however, at one of the internships, some of my colleagues and I became good friends and we get lunch together every time I go back home.
What I learned: Every human being can teach you something new. The ones you meet in a work-setting can perhaps teach you even more. It’s a good idea to keep in touch because a stronger network means greater opportunities. Networking is key. Make your colleagues your friends, make your boss your mentor. It all starts with a conversation.
Stick to the lessons you learn
What happened: It took me a few tries to learn how to interact in professional meetings before I finally got it right.
What I learned: Good or bad, every experience counts. And only when you learn from a bad one, reflect on what went wrong, how you could’ve made it better, and maybe even laugh about it, can you make a transition to good ones.