It’s that time of year again: when students start to worry about what they’ll do this summer. The prospects can seem overwhelming with the array of prestigious fellowships and local internship opportunities. However, have no fear undergrads, here is some expert advice to help successfully navigate the scholastic summer opportunities.
What do you want to do?
The first step in professional summer plans is to determine whether you want an internship, a fellowship or research work. An internship is usually an educational experience within a field and can be paid or unpaid. A fellowship is a grant to do research within a field of interest, and often requires a research proposal. Research work within a field is typically a paid, hands-on experience.
There are varying levels of competition in each of the three scholastic opportunities, but fellowships tend to be the most competitive. If you’re ambitious and full of ideas, a fellowship might be for you.
Research work and internships tend to overlap, especially in paid positions.
You should apply for more than one of these opportunities, focusing on the area you’re interested in the most. Brad Gambill, coordinator of prestigious fellowships and undergrad scholars, recommends choosing wisely.
“You really need to make up your mind whether it’s worth the effort,” said Gambill.
There are lots of places to find these opportunities. Chris Confer, director of career development, suggests students start with the list on the Career Development Center’s website at jbu.edu/cdc, but shouldn’t stop there.
“A lot of our internships aren’t part of a formalized intern program, but students offered the opportunity to the employer,” Confer said. He advises approaching companies you’re interested in, focusing especially on those with which you may have an internal connection. You should then ask if there are any openings for internships.
“Networking gives you an in,” he said. Linked-in is a great place to start; check chat boards of John Brown University alumni and ask around for opportunities.
Trisha Posey, director of the Honors Scholars Program, says to not forget to check out non-profit organizations you’re interested in as well. This is especially important for humanities majors. She adds that idealist.org is another great resource for finding opportunities.
Words of Wisdom
Once you’ve found a few options, your next step is to choose an adviser. The best choice for an adviser may be your current academic adviser or a professor you’ve had several classes with.
“Be in communication beyond the classroom,” Gambill said. “Reach out to faculty and ask them about these sorts of opportunities.”
Your adviser can help you determine which summer opportunities are best for your career path, and aid you through the application process.
“As many eyes can see that application as possible,” said Posey. “It’s really important to have your advisers look over your material.”
Often applications will ask for a résumé, which can be intimidating, but there are lots of resources on the Career Development website. Additionally, Confer said, if you bring your résumé in to the Center, one of the highly trained Career Development assistants would be happy to look it over for you.
Then there’s the matter of essays or statements of future plans. When it comes to these, specifics are good, Posey said.
“You need to have a cohesive narrative of who you are and who you plan to be, and be able to tell it well,” she said. This is, again, where advisers come in handy.
To Whom it May Concern
One of the most crucial aspects of an application is the letter of recommendation. Choose professors who have had you in class and who will have good things to say about you.
“Ask professors in person, and give them a way to say no,” Confer said. “If they pause or say they’re really busy, choose someone else. You’re looking for (professors) who you know you did really good work for.”
It is essential to give two to three weeks advance notice to professors before the deadline, as well as give specifics about what’s important that the letter conveys. Vague letters won’t help you, and professors appreciate some direction.
Humility is important in everyday life, but when applying for summer opportunities, there’s no reason to undersell yourself. Confer suggests a change in perspective to help you put your best foot forward.
“It’s a way to worship,” he said. “It’s being able to celebrate what God has done through you in your interviews and applications.”
Gambill adds that occasionally students suffer from “imposter syndrome,” the fear that everything up to this point in your life has been a sham. Gambill dismisses these fears.
“JBU students tend to underestimate their abilities,” he said. “My argument is that they are good enough and should be pursuing these opportunities.”
Of course, prayer never hurts. Remember to ask your friends, family and advisers to pray for you as you go through the process.