Last year, I frantically emailed the Stanback Fellowship Program and a trusted professor to ask if I should accept a summer internship offer from Greenpeace or gamble on receiving offers from the marine science programs I had applied to.
Their responses stated: we can’t make the decision for you.
I knew in my heart that I wanted to spend the summer by the ocean, tracking the movements of marine animals. So I made the hard decision to decline my offer and wait for the possibility of my dream.
With only three undergraduate summers to fill with internships, the pressure to choose the “right” internship, while also hoping that internship will choose you back, is immense. The “right” internship can mean a lot of things—the most profitable, the most prestigious, or the most educational. In the course of my undergraduate career, I found what the right internship meant to me each summer.
The Elimination Internship
The summer after my freshman year, I remained at Duke while participating in a research program.
I learned I really disliked wet lab research.
Choose an internship you’re unsure of, that you may not enjoy. Most of us have a variety of interests and passions, so it may be daunting to choose one career. Your undergraduate summers provide the perfect opportunity to tease out what exactly you want. If you hate your internship, that’s great! Now you’ve eliminated a possible career choice and are better equipped to decide what area of work you want to pursue.
The Self-Growth Internship
Sophomore year, I was torn between two paths for my next summer. I could embark on the DukeEngage Thailand program, or I could pursue an internship at a well-known company that would give me more “marketable” skills.
Though I couldn’t put “increased product revenue by 30%” on my resume, I came away from my DukeEngage summer with the ability to work in teams with Duke students, NGO workers, and Thai villagers–and the ability to adapt and persevere with limited resources. In interviews, I describe how I had to explain in simple English why enrichment “toys” are crucial for proper sea turtle development to Thai Navy officers.
This internship is for you, not your resume. This internship is scary to embark on, but it yields the intangible skills that companies search for: teamwork, adaptability, creativity.
And it gives you great stories to tell in your interviews.
The Challenge Internship
The next summer, I pursued two remote internships.
It was difficult, of course. I worked well after 5 p.m. every day and dedicated my weekends to finishing my projects for both organizations. But I learned valuable skills and information I wouldn’t have received through just one internship. Most importantly, I learned how hard I could work, and not to sell my abilities short in the future.
—Ultimately, I treated my three summer experiences as learning opportunities above all else. I’m thankful I followed my heart last year, because the internships I ended up pursuing were my favorite ones yet. In the end, the decision of which internship to pursue can only be made by you. So trust yourself—you know best what you want!