One little application, one big future

When the calendar says “January,” the same word enters everyone’s head: “Summer!” And that’s because you should be thinking of summer internships now, in the middle of winter. Most science and research internships have deadlines by the end of January, and more will close their application windows in February. We’ve all been told internships are worth the time, but for some reason some of us still miss the simple but crucial first step: applying. So here are a few thoughts to motivate you to, you know, apply.

Whether you’re on your way to graduate school, or to the work force, walking into your interview with internship experience gives you confidence and credibility, as well as stories you can tell to illustrate how you’ve learned one thing or another. Internships demonstrate that you have encountered experiences and obstacles both vastly and subtly different from the papers and projects you’ve completed for school. Without work experience, the best you can tell the interviewer, with all honesty, is that you guess you would be good at the job; you are pretty sure it’s what you want. In the end, it would be a hypothesis with no data.

Both graduate schools and employers are looking for new college graduates to bolster future full-time jobs, and employers frequently use interns as a hiring pool. Ed Koc, the director of strategic and foundation research for the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), says that “internships are becoming more of a core recruiting tool each year. Not only are the numbers going up in terms of hiring interns, but a higher percentage of interns are receiving job offers and being converted into full-time employees“.

Here are the numbers. According to the NACE 2008 Experiential Education Survey, “The percent of interns converted to full-time employees [same employer] has increased from 35.6 percent in 2001 to 50.5 percent in 2008.” The survey further highlights, “The percent of interns receiving full-time job offers as a result of their internships [any employer] increased from 56.9 percent in 2001 to 69.6 percent in 2008.”  When added to the already well known fact that employers tend to rely on internal referrals when hiring, if you plan on securing a good job after graduation, you should be applying for internships!

There’s another reason to gain work experience ASAP: If your career of choice is a terrible fit for you, you definitely want to find that out now rather than later. It actually happened to me after my sophomore year in college. I’d done three or four summer research jobs in biology labs already, and I had a solid plan to keep going for the rest of my life. I liked it, and hadn’t tried anything else. Therefore, I believed I loved it. When one of my professors asked me to consider a fellowship at the U.S. Department of Energy to research energy storage (e.g. batteries, fuel cells), I hardly gave it any thought. It was on a whim, at the last minute before the deadline, that I realized, “After college, I might never get another chance to try energy storage research again, once I grow my roots in biology.” You can’t count on chances to come again. I applied. My entire “solid plan” flipped inside out in less than one summer. It was a fantastic experience. I’d become glued to many new papers, projects, and people I would be honored to work for someday, to ever go back to my original plan.  I found my new path through one little application.

You don’t want to miss opportunities like that. It’s well worth one application that, for me, might have been tossed in the recycling bin long ago.

Emily Li is a Biochemistry major and master alchemist with Alpha Chi Sigma at the University of Maryland - College Park.

Emily Li is a Biochemistry major and master alchemist with Alpha Chi Sigma at the University of Maryland – College Park.

If you don’t have any information about internships on hand yet, ACS’s Get Experience site is a great place to start. You can also try searching your e-mails for internship opportunities sent out on your undergraduate department/college listserv, if you have one. If you’re back at school, be sure to catch your professors after class to ask if they’ve heard of any good internships they might recommend.

There’s still time left, and one application won’t use all of it. Go for it!

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