How to Choose a Great Internship

Categories: #LifeAtGR, Data, Eng

After six internships in a span of four years, I’ve learned A LOT and consider myself an intern veteran, a senior intern, if you will. All of my internships have been unique experiences and I’ve taken something away from all of them. They’ve taught me what to look for when searching for a job and what my successful career will look like.

Lesson One: Take Charge

My first internship was the hardest to land. As a naive first year student, you’re bright eyed and hopeful that someone will read your resume and just hand you a job on a silver platter. Well this was most certainly not the case. After searching high and low, I was hired by the Biomedical Engineering department at my local hospital. In this job, I didn’t receive much guidance and my work was mostly a fun project they gave the last intern and asked me to continue. I didn’t have deadlines or project requirements or a JIRA board filled with tasks, so I found myself a bit lost and tried to fill up my time with Android development tutorials. From this I learned that it’s important to seek direct impact on the business.

Although I didn’t have the impact I wanted, I did enjoy aspects of this job: I lived near home, and got to see my friends while working. Plus, if I were to return, I wouldn’t need to interview and I’d feel comfortable and safe.

Lesson Two: Look Twice Before You Leap

I decided to return to the same employer for my second internship. From this I learned to evaluate the pros and cons of a potential role, and to focus on my growth. The choices that seem the safest and most comfortable aren’t always optimized for personal advancement. When choosing an internship, look at what skills you’ll develop and how much responsibility you’ll have. The purpose of internships is to learn as much as you can.

Having learned two valuable lessons, I was able to find a third internship that enabled me to acquire new skills and have a direct impact on the company.

Lesson Three: Ask for Help

I landed a role as a full stack web developer in Toronto. I walked in on my first day super excited and ready to code! It didn’t take me long to realize that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Sure, I could write Tic Tac Toe in C# or create a linked list in C++, but I didn’t know Python, SQL, HTML, CSS, or JavaScript. I didn’t even know the difference between Postgres and Redis. Prior to this job, I hadn’t even logged into the AWS console before. I found myself at the bottom of a massive learning curve.

This is when I demonstrated to myself that I could accelerate my learning curve. I worked hard to get up to speed by reading some Python and Django books, doing tutorials, stepping through the code base and asking questions. A lot of questions. People want to help you and share their expertise and insights. It’s okay to ask for help and speak up when you don’t understand something. Start coding, make mistakes, break things, work hard, and allow others to help you. Learning new things can be frustrating, especially when there are high expectations and deadlines hanging over your head. I received constructive feedback, extensive code reviews, and countless one on ones with product managers to better understand the business. From this I learned that when finding a job, you need to look for coworkers and managers that will be personally invested in your growth.

Lesson Four: Find Your Motivation

My fourth internship was in a bioinformatics lab at the cancer hospital in Toronto, which was an opportunity for me to find an internship that aligns with something I was passionate about. Since I’m in Biomedical Engineering, this job nicely integrated my interest in genetics and my interest in software engineering. I requested to be put on a project with a fertility doctor doing research with IVF. I found her work really interesting and seized the opportunity to learn more about her thesis, her goals, and the potential of her work to help people. The opportunity to solve challenging technical problems is exciting, but caring about the work you’re doing and seeing it have a positive impact on the world is deeply rewarding. I feel privileged to be a software engineer in this day and age, so why wouldn’t I want to make the world a better place through my day-to-day work?

Lesson Five: Be Open Minded

By the time my fifth internship rolled around, I felt like the world was my oyster. As a senior student with four other jobs under my belt, I was positive I would find a job to build on everything I’ve learned from my past experiences. I landed a great job at a company that makes brain imaging technologies. I was getting excited about this job and happy to be moving back to Toronto. Then, it happened: I got the worst news that a soon-to-be intern can get (the day before my hardest exam, of course). My internship offer was rescinded due to “unfortunate business circumstances”. I had only two weeks to secure another internship, so I frantically started applying to jobs while trying to study for my exams. Fortunately I got the offer which was for a tech start up in the oil and gas industry, which was the best option I had.

This turned out to be a valuable experience from which I gained a lot. I learned that things don’t always turn out the way you plan. You must be flexible and adaptable, especially when it comes to your career. When looking for internships, it’s important to be open minded and not shy away from industries and jobs that are outside your comfort zone.

Lesson Six: Embrace Self Reflection

Selecting my final internship was an opportunity to apply all of the lessons that I’ve learned to date. I picked Grand Rounds because it aligns with my passions in the healthcare space and would challenge me to grow quickly. As I evaluated my options I was confident that this job would check all of the boxes for me.

Now that I’m just finishing up at Grand Rounds, I’ve been doing some introspection. I’m happy that I had the opportunity to make an impact on the business, acquire new skills, work with super-supportive team members that were personally invested in my growth, and do something that matches my values.

Kelsea's Presentation
Presenting at the Women in Tech Speaking Series Workshop

The best part about my internship here has been realizing it’s 100% possible to work somewhere and truly enjoy it. This experience felt like a trial run for being a full-time software engineer and empowered me to no longer see myself as “just an intern”. The coworkers didn’t look at me as an intern, either: I felt like a fully equal member of the team and that I had the chance to contribute to the team’s success. Although I’m excited to be heading into my last year of school, I’m pumped to announce that I’ll be joining Grand Rounds full-time after graduation and some traveling!

Does my Grand Rounds experience sound right up your alley? We’re hiring.

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