Santa Cruz Tech Beat


Three Tips to Succeed in a Summer Internship

By Anisha Singh

May 14, 2019 — Scotts Valley, CA

Here is an essential truth about internships: they go by really fast. Another essential truth: any intern can get more out of their experience by being as prepared as possible ahead of time.

Here are three tips I put to work for my internship. Whether you’re doing an internship yourself or offering guidance to others, these steps can make a difference both in what an intern gives an organization and what they learn for themselves.

Tip #1: Come Prepared

When you are writing your application to get into an internship, you go to the organization’s website. You look around. You get a sense of the people and the mission.

But once you are accepted into the internship, things are a little different. You need to go deeper and spend more time exploring. Look at what your preceptor is doing. What kind of research are they conducting? Who are their collaborators? What are the ongoing projects in the organization?

Then look at the profiles of others in the organization, so you can connect with them and ask questions. Write to people in the organization and ask about projects that interest you. At what stage are these projects? Which teams might you realistically be able to join?

Ask people to share information about projects not posted on the website. What’s coming up? What projects are exciting to staff? Is there a new project coming along that you might be able to join?

Ask staff to share relevant documents that would help you understand the research better. As you do this preparation, you are strengthening your position if you want to go to your preceptor and say, “Yes, this project is exciting to me, and I want to work on it.”

We deal with a lot of human-related data in our field, which brings along a host of ethical concerns. Every intern working on data needs to undergo training in responsible research. These are web-based trainings. Depending on what’s required, the training might take a few hours to a few days. If you know what’s needed beforehand, you can complete the training before you start your internship. That will save you time.

Organizations love this kind of preparedness and positive attitude from interns who are going to join their team.

Tip #2: Have Specific and Defined Aims

My aims were guided through the S-M-A-R-T objectives approach. This is a great way to develop specific and defined aims for your internship. Everyone knows these, right?

S is Specific

What is your role in the forthcoming projects? Be very specific. The more you’ve worked through these ideas before you start, the more quickly you’ll get into real substance in your internship.

M is Measurable

You’re going to do specific tasks in the project. How are you going to measure these? You need to consider your activities, your tasks, and your time. This helps you monitor whether you’re going in the right direction. It enables you to organize your work efficiently.

A is Attainable

Most of us are high achievers. We want to do so much! It’s crucial to choose aims that are attainable over the time of your internship. If they’re not, choose something that is. (See “Realistic,” below.)

R is Realistic

Question yourself. Will you really be able to do this? If you think you’ll be able to analyze three phases of a data set—well, you’re wrong, everything takes more time than you think! That’s not realistic. You won’t do a good job, and you won’t learn. It will be much more realistic to take a portion of the baseline, or perhaps a segment of the first or second phase. Do that much only. Be real to yourself.

T is Timeframe

Trust me. An internship goes by faster than you can imagine. I designed my aims using this S-M-A-R-T model, and every day, I went into the office with a clear sense of the task that would start my morning. I usually had a list of two or three other tasks as goals for the day. I was always moving forward and staying efficient.

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