Career Center

Understand Experience

Test Your Strengths and Interests in the World

Photo credit: tom.arthurp11

Duke students are renowned for being  extremely involved, in positive ways, on and off of campus; filling their schedules with such rewarding activities as research, volunteer work, student organizations, creative endeavors, entrepreneurial ventures, studying abroad, internships. You name it, Duke students are doing it!  

With each experience you undertake, you should intentionally develop and utilize particular skills, acquire different kinds of knowledge, and grapple with a variety of problems and function within a specific structure and environment. 

The Career Center recommends you reflect on each of your experiences to better understand how they align with your career goals:

  • What do you want to learn or gain?
  • How do you want to challenge yourself?
  • What do you want to experience more (or less)?  
  • What curiosities do you want to satisfy?

By carefully reflecting on your choices, you will be well equipped to implement your next steps, anticipate potential goal changes, enhance current knowledge and skills or embark on a newly-discovered path.

Think Differently About Experience 

There are many ways to pursue your immediate goals. Use your research skills to determine what you want to learn next by reflecting on your past experiences and future aspirations. Opportunities abound on campus and in the local community to develop specific knowledge and skills, to connect with others, and to generate self-awareness. The key is to be discerning in your choices: the value of any given experience can only be measured in relation to your unique goals and interests.
The list below suggests ways to evaluate opportunities and reflect on relevant key factors. Keep in mind that no single club, project, or activity has a monopoly on the knowledge and skill development desired!

• Student organizations (active participation and/or leadership)

• Community engagement and volunteering
• Research with a professor
• Independent research
• Job shadowing
• Entrepreneurial ventures
• Significant projects, in class or out
• Athletics
• Hobbies
• Honors thesis
• Campus and national competitions  
• Tutoring
• Military

Career Center advisers can help you reflect on how these and other experiences relate to your personal priorities and interests.


Think of internships as providing a broad array of additional experiences that may complement your on- and off-campus activities and coursework or help you bridge gaps in your learning, and development. Internships are most often explicitly pre-professional in nature and are one more tool for gaining self-insight, knowledge and skills.

As with your other activities and courses, it is essential that you develop awareness of skills and interests when pursuing and selecting from the wide range of available internships. There is no objective measure for a good internship. The best internships are those that align with your unique values, skills, interests, and personality and that make sense given what else you have learned and experienced thus far.

As you become more self-aware in regards to your interests, skills, and values, you will be able to further clarify your purpose and motivation. Similarly, with each new learning, you will adapt and refine your goals. Over time, you may choose to mix and match a variety of internship experiences along with your coursework and other experiences to best meet your needs and interests.

Start Researching Internships

  • Meet with a career adviser to clarify what you hope to learn from an internship and develop a personalized strategy—the earlier you begin the conversation, the better!  Continue periodic check-in meetings throughout your exploration and search.
  • Seek advice and perspective from members of your Board of Directors for advice and perspective. Keep your directors up to date throughout your exploration and search.
  • Connect with peers and alumni about their internship experiences.

Consider Professional Fellowships

Though many students only associate fellowships with academic pursuits, professional fellowships are a great option for those seeking short-term work experience, training, and mentorship after graduation. These competitive opportunities—found throughout the world—are typically geared toward cultivating young leaders in various professional fields. As such, they can serve as a fantastic springboard for your career.

For more information about post-graduate professional fellowships, connect with a career adviser and explore possibilities presented on our website.

For academic fellowships, e.g., Rhodes Scholars Program, the Office of Undergraduate Scholars and Fellows at Duke and its website are excellent resources.

86% of Duke seniors
responding to a 2016 survey
reported having had
at least one internship before graduation.   

Stretch your summer dollar!

There are many options and it is important that you adapt plans based on opportunities and challenges: apply for competitive funding to cover your costs, stay close to home, take on a part-time, paid job alongside an internship, or build up your savings before the summer begins.

Next Steps and Selected Resources:
Understand Experience—Test your strengths and interest in the world

▢ Schedule an appointment to connect with a career adviser to reflect on experiences that strategically align with your curiosities.
▢ Research a list of topics you want to learn about or skills that you want.
▢ Use the DukeGroups directory to connect with student organizations that match your interests.
▢ Intentionally try out something that builds a skill that you would like to develop.
▢ Research opportunities to pursue your interests in Durham and the broader community.
▢ Assess whether your time is being filled by the most meaningful commitments. Use the Opportunity Buffet as food for thought.
▢Create an account and set up personalized searches in each of these Duke databases to become more aware of your options.
     ► CareerConnections
▢ Use DukeList to identify volunteer, research, and work opportunities at Duke.
▢ Attend a career fair or another event.
▢ Look for leads and ideas using these tools:
     ►Internship Series Online     ►Interstride     ►LinkedIn