A story by Mark Smith (part 1/7)
Being a student and doing internships go together. They are an essential part of the entire student experience, especially if you are in some field of science. I often get email from students asking for internship opportunities. Sometimes they wonder if I know of any jobs they can get in a company somewhere in the Stockholm area. Other times they want to work directly with me in the Mentorspace. I always feel good when I get those latter ones, because it means that someone values the Mentorspace and the things we do there. But most students want an internship in a big company, and for all sorts of reasons. I think the best reason is to get experience, and to get an idea of what working in a company is like. Especially in the kind that might hire them someday. Other reasons are not so good. The worst reasons are simply to be able to put something “impressive” on one’s resume without any thought about what the job might actually be or what one can do. If I get to see my students again after the summer, I always ask them what they thought of their internship experience. More often than not, it wasn’t so hot! They tell me about the many reasons for this ranging from bad management to complete boredom. That’s one thing about student internships. No mater how they transcend time and space, it just seems like they don’t live up to expectations. What we pictured in our minds doesn’t match what the internship really was. How can it? There is just too much to cram into a few weeks. I had lots of summer jobs, and I always noticed this. What I expected and what I got were always two different things. That’s not to say that the internships weren’t worth it, and anyway I needed the money for rent and tuition. The weird thing is that almost all of my summer jobs were not planned and nothing about them was predictable. I just looked out for opportunity, and it always would show up in one form or another. It was as if they were sent from somewhere.
My best ever internship was one I had right after I finished my Bachelor’s degree and before I went to grad school. It was a real internship, and not just a summer job. My major was in biology, and all my undergrad classes were in life science areas, but I wanted to get more into technology stuff. It was mostly a hopeless wish because I thought it was impossible. The university I went to was mostly concerned with agricultural studies and life science. There was no engineering school or departments at all. We had physics, chemistry, math, and all that, but no engineering, computer science, or anything to do with information technology. I had several part time jobs during my undergraduate years, and one of them I found within the first week after arriving at the university. I worked for a professor who taught courses in epidemiology and physiology, and my job was to wash laboratory glassware, some of which once had been used in disease related experiments involving things like malaria. I worked for him all the four years I was at the school and he knew about the internship and asked me if I would be interested in applying for it. At first I told him no because I felt sure that I wouldn’t get it and I couldn’t do it anyway. I thought I couldn’t do anything well. But he had more faith in me than I did. He was the reason I went to graduate school at all, and after talking it over with him I applied for the internship and I actually got it.
It was at the San Diego Zoo in California.
Stay tuned for part 2!