“Trade places with me. No seriously.” –InternTalk #101
If you are somewhere in the world right now making a mark, you probably started as an Intern. They didn’t give you the director’s job out of college, did they? Or did I miss a job fair?
Or maybe you sailed your way out of an Ivy League right into a cushy job with an enviable salary. Or at least to a job many people ‘think’ of as cushy, like the one their neighbor has.
But I am not talking to you guys. I am talking to the ones who, by eccentricity or fluke, or by pure intentions have just got into research. Intern anyone? I hear some murmured voices at the back of the room. Yes, I AM talking to you.
Now I should warn you, I will get existential and contemplative. I will also ask a million non rhetorical questions. No seriously, I would really like to know your inputs on being an intern! Believe it or not, they are of paramount importance to those underpaid, undercapitalized (not overworked…I specifically don’t mean that term) and fresh or slightly stale graduates interning in the field they one day hope to command their own interns in.
Industrial or academic, internships are crucial in determining
A. Your eligibility for that kind of job in the future.
B. A time limited experience with the company you want to work for in the future.And the most important and I think the least stressed upon:
C. Your ability to interact / communicate in the workplace.
How much of the above did you really get out of it? I was asked this very question by my boss a few days ago. And I cheerily told him yes and then went ahead and told him of a personal breakthrough I had. But then I got thinking. Did I really mean it? Partly, yes. But then, why not a resounding Yes?
I did learn some things, and not so good ones:
A. You get blamed for everything that goes wrong in the lab when you first join it.
B. Not everyone is helpful. Some are deliberately obstructive.
C. You have got to make or break the communication. Academic labs are breeding grounds to cater to the anti-social specializing in DIY. They don’t help matters much if you work under some of them.
Also, not ALL labs are like this. I understand that. But you cannot disregard that many are, and those many labs are killing creativity in interns everyday …
Now I DO have a job that I will join once I intern, which makes things so much easier to handle. But, I can’t help but think about the souls who don’t and who think their only way to salvation is to work in a lab they don’t like under people they would rather not talk to just to get the work experience in their annual transcript.
That’s dangerous behavior, like a ticking Time Bomb. If you work under those conditions, it will eventually set out a vicious circle of frustration throughout your workplace.
Or most likely, you can grin and bear it.
But there is this third alternative, which is pretty unpopular, mainly because it involves changing your own behavior. It involves many, many steps, another reason why interns would rather complain than try it;
A. Talk to the people with whom you seem to have conflicting interests. If you are like me, and you really care what you bring to an experience, you need to keep all lines open. You might think they don’t care, but it’s your job to make them care.
Remember, sometimes, you need them more than they need you. Make it work.
B. Build trust. And keep an eye out for people who you really need to interact with. That lab mate of yours you see only from lab meeting to lab meeting? I wouldn’t spend much time building a rapport there. There is a limit sometimes to how hard you try. Just report to your superior regularly and let them know what you are up to. That does bring some changes for the better, and I speak first hand.
C. Keep other avenues open. This one is really important. If your internship is your only contact for a full time job, and you have a bad experience, or worse a fall out, you will be left in an impossible position. Work with either recruiters or keep logged in on job sites like Bio Careers. That way, the only experience you had will not define your entire job search.
D. And take it easy. Internships are a mixed package. Unlike college, there is less definition of goals and expectations. It’s a flexible ground, which you can either build upon or wreak havoc on. Choose to build, learn all you can and be positive. This will be one of the very first lessons in people management that you will have.
E. And learn to take criticism. Some might be unfounded or biased, but most of it is given so that you learn and don’t make the same mistakes. On the other hand, if you find someone cutting you off without any provocation from you, report the behavior.
Treat everything as a lesson and you have no choice but to learn. Treat everything as a complaint and that’s what it will come down to.
That’s what I say. But then I believe many others would feel differently, and I especially invite comments and suggestions on this post because I really believe that labs and interns could work for the mutual benefit of each other rather than make the period be a harrowing experience for either party.
If you have worked with grad interns or undergrad interns before, and the experience has been less than perfect, I would really value your input.
All in All. Intern and intern well!