Summer is here. Long days by the pool, weeks on family vacations, endless barbecued nights. And more work? Maybe. Many of you are jumping into summer internships and realizing that sacrificing a few of those beach days for the benefits of an internship is one of the best decisions you could have made.
Our blog in February, “Internships: Get Exposure, Gain Experience, Become Competitive” talked about the importance of internships for advancing your career goals. Internships are opportunities: (1) to learn more about how an organization runs and operates day-to-day, (2) to meet professionals and leaders in the field, and (3) to gain hands-on skills.
But internships are only as powerful as you make them—these are opportunities to gain exposure, experience, and mentorship, but only if you take full advantage of them. Getting your internship is only the first step, and now it’s time for you to make the most of your summer.
- Make a plan. 2 or 3 months in an internship may seem like a long time, but it will fly by. Don’t let August or September sneak up on you. At the beginning of your internship, make a list of learning objectives that you would like to achieve by the end of the summer, and a rough schedule or calendar for yourself. You may have specific projects you will be involved in, but what do you personally hope to learn from this internship experience? Maybe you would like to learn more about how the organization interacts with the community, or local organizations. Or perhaps you want to learn more about something completely new, like financial management or grant writing. Writing up a plan will push you to keep these objectives in mind throughout the summer, and to capitalize on opportunities.
- Knock on every door. Every person you meet and every colleague you build a relationship with can be a future employer or co-worker. That person you met at a staff meeting or had coffee with could refer you to a new job or introduce you to a professor at the graduate school you have your eye on. Your supervisor could have struggled with some of the same decisions you are making now, and his or her story could help you advance your own career. Build these connections now. One of the most powerful strategies for building these relationships are informational interviews. Informational interviews are informal meetings with the goal of learning about that person’s authentic health career path. How did he choose a career in public health? What led her to this specific position—how did she get there? Make it a priority during your summer to do as many informational interviews as possible—it is much more difficult to have these meetings once you leave the organization. If you want to learn more about informational interviews, make sure to read Jeff Oxendine’s blog post “The Power of Informational Interviews.”
- Stay open-minded. You may have a clear idea of what you want to do, and the health career that you want to pursue. But as public health and health fields become more and more interconnected and intersectional, so too are the possible career paths available to you. When asking for informational interviews, joining meetings, attending networking events, don’t discount colleagues from other fields. Their career path may be just as informative (or even more so) as someone in your ideal profession.
- Stay connected. Once your summer ends, the relationships you’ve built should continue on. Never underestimate the power of a thank you card, follow-up email, or periodic phone call. One practice that you should adopt now is the “check-in email.” Every year, I send an email or two to my mentors, simply saying hello and updating them on where I am, what I’m doing, and thanking them for their support over the years. This serves two purposes: to illustrate how much you value their mentorship and to keep you fresh in their minds. Two years from now, if you are applying to graduate school, it will be so much easier to ask your mentor for a Letter of Recommendation if you have stayed in touch with them over the years.
Be proactive and think ahead this summer. Trite as it may sound, the more you put in to your internship, the more you will get out of it. Put in the effort now and it will set you on the right track for longer than you can imagine.