My summer internship is wrapping up and as my workload dwindles and I tie up the loose ends, I have been reflecting on my experience. I spent my summer at city hall deeply immersed in projects aimed at preventing violence in our city. It would have been really easy for me to stay on the project I was hired to work on but I wanted to get more from my experience than that. Since many of us twentysomethings intern at one point or another and I wanted to share some of the ways I felt I made my experience a success.
Make your interests clear to your boss and coworkers.
Although I was hired to work on a specific project, my boss felt like I could be an asset to other projects going on in the city. I clearly laid out what my outside interests were and she connected me to people throughout the city who had projects I could help with or who I could simply talk to and learn about what they do. I also spent the first couple weeks getting to know some of the people in my office and what their main projects were. If I was interested in anything they were working on I asked to be kept in the loop if they needed any help. Being open about my interests was extremely beneficial and I ended up working on projects in a number of different areas. I learned a lot about the city and inner workings of city government. I might even have found a way to incorporate some of the things I’ve been working on into my thesis.
Don’t be afraid to do the menial tasks.
Now by menial I don’t mean coffee runs and the like. I mean that sometimes people will delegate tasks to you that you feel they could easily do themselves or are clearly not part of your job description. I spent time entering surveys into databases and editing documents for projects far beyond my scope. What I learned was that my work ethic was speaking for itself and as my other projects got shared around the office, people felt that I could be helpful to them even in the smallest ways. They trusted me to do things correctly the first time which is really important working for such a highly active administration. Rather than allow the extra work to frustrate me, I was actually excited that they valued me as a colleague. They even explicitly expressed this to me which is a nice pat on the back.
Your ideas are valuable.
On my very first day I had to go to a big city event with the mayor and other federal and local government officers. As my coworker introduced me to someone from our office, I said “oh I’m just an intern.” When the conversation was over she turned to me and said “Never say you’re just an intern. Interns are more valuable than you think.” This was some of the best advice I got all summer. As postgrads sometimes when we go into our fields we aren’t as confident about our knowledge compared to those around us. I get to work with so many intelligent people who have been doing this work for much longer than me but it is always important to remember that I have a fresh perspective. Since I’m still a student I read the most current articles, am more informed about updated methods and I haven’t yet been jaded from years on the job. I still have honed research skills and a clear concept of the fundamentals so I really do bring a lot to the table. There have been so many times that I complete a task for my boss and she actually learns something from what I have to say and has me share it with others. This is definitely something that I’ll need to remember when I officially enter the workforce.
These are just a couple things that really helped me along the way and I hope that they help you too. I have been opened up to so many new experiences this summer that I will use to shape my studies and how I move forward as a professional. I couldn’t have asked for a better internship and I’m really excited for what’s to come. I only hope that others can use these tips to get everything they want from their placements as well.