5 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Starting My First Internship

By Merry Joseph, 2020 CPDC Internship of the Year Award Winner | Biomedical Engineering & Psychology Student | Presidential Intern

The months, weeks, and even days leading up to an internship are an exciting time—filled with anticipation and nervousness. Although you can’t predict what will happen, you can prepare to get the most out of your internship.

Here are 5 things I wish I had known before starting my first internship, which might help you be more successful!

    1. Give yourself time, do not rush the process
      Participating in an internship can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first one. It’s easy to become anxious and burnt out when you’re trying to gel with new colleagues, understand your job, and execute projects successfully, all during the first few weeks of your internship. This is a mistake I made during my first internship. As time progressed, I realized how all of these things fell into place over time. Since your learning curve will likely be steep, take mindful breaks during the day or weekends to refuel yourself. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.
    2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
      There’s no such thing as asking too many questions; you’re doing your internship to learn! Employers don’t select you for an internship because you are already an expert in an area. Rather, they believe you have the most potential to learn and become one.
    3. Learn how to ask great questions
      With that said, HOW you ask your questions matters greatly. Take a look at the following examples:
      “How do I find a genomic dataset for XYZ disease?”
      “I’ve looked through Google Scholar and PubMed for genomic datasets for XYZ disease, but none of them have sufficient samples. What are other ways I can find datasets?”

      Do you notice the difference? The first question lacks thoughtfulness and initiative, whereas the latter is specific and show’s you’ve done prior research to find an answer. Asking questions like the latter will help you make a positive impression on employers.

    4. Be proactive & take initiative
      Don’t let yourself become bored during your internship. Once you finish a task/project, it can be tempting to spend the rest of the day on your phone, browsing the internet, or doing homework. Fight the urge to do so! Rather, ask your coworkers or supervisor if there’s anything else you can do, or propose your own ideas for new tasks/projects. If you feel capable, don’t shy away from shouldering more responsibilities!
    5. Reflect on & log your experiences
      Before you know it, your internship will be over. In the rush to finish up tasks and get ready for your next endeavor, it’s common to forget to take time to reflect on and record all you’ve accomplished. Keeping a weekly/monthly log of the skills you’ve gained, tasks you’ve completed, and experiences you’ve had will help you immensely when the time comes for you to articulate your accomplishments in a future resume, personal statement, interview, or portfolio.

For additional support prior to starting an internship, you can schedule an appointment with a Career Coach or Internship Coordinator.