Internships have been dangled in front of us since we walked onto campus as the ultimate first step toward snagging the dream job (with the dream pay check). A fellowship, however, is a murkier world that some random grad students enter. What you may not know is that there are opportunities for undergraduates to try fellowships and internships. Picking a ‘ship can be intimidating, but CM is here to make that choice a breeze.
Old vs New
The big questions to answer are whether you can get through your job without falling asleep, and whether it’s relevant to what you’re studying. Boston College offers Undergraduate Research Fellowships where a professor work with a student in their own area of study. “Coming into my summer fellowship and working 40 hours a week, I got a chance to do independent work. The way I look at an internship, they just give you stuff to do, so this fellowship was relevant to my interests,” said Toguynh Vu, a biology major at Boston College. Vu was able to do something that fit her studies and something that she cared about. That’s one nice formula.
“I didn’t pursue internships in my major, so I chose to build on another soft skill like event planning,” said Mai Hoang, an economics major at Boston College and intern at a TV station. Instead of diving deeper into an area you’re already in, you can check out what else you could be missing. “Event planning is something I want to explore to know if I can do it longer than a semester,” said Hoang. “I think there’s a lot of hand’s on experience for sure, but also a lot of mundane tasks. It can’t all be real world experience.”
Career vs Exploration
The most critical worry of all: Is this ‘ship useful for your future path? “In terms of affecting my career path, it definitely gave me a new perspective on doing research. Before I was just thinking of med school, but now I see research as a new career path,” said Vu. Then there’s the dreaded R word. “I think it will be really important on my resume; research teaches you a lot of really important skills. It shows I applied these skills in a work setting.”
Rich vs Poor
Then there’s the issue of money looming over your head. Fellowships are expected to come with a stipend. (Translation: enough money to guarantee you can afford surviving long enough to finish the fellowship.) “I wouldn’t have done it without being paid, but only because it was far away from my house. I had to commute during peak traffic hours, so if I wasn’t being paid it wouldn’t have been worth it,” said Vu. Logistics always seem to bring us back to earth. But luckily, any sort of fellowship means a paycheck coming your way.
Sadly, internships don’t always come with cash. Businesses are happy to take advantage of poor students’ desperate need to gain experience and resume fluff. Why throw away money on students who would work for free. Hoang has done internships both paid and unpaid. “I did the unpaid internship anyway, but being paid is important because a lot have hour requirements. You have to do that on top of school work,” said Hoang. A lot of internships just may not be worth the possible dip in the grades.
Buddies vs Bullies
In any position the food chain is key: Make sure you’re getting to know the people who one day might be writing you recommendations. “We talked about MD, PhDs. It’s good to have mentors,” Vu said. A position is even more precious if you can maintain it. “I’m still in Tim’s lab, back to volunteering.” Essentially, it’s a win-win-win. Besides having guidance, there is the more selfish consideration: You can get those recs.
Some poor internships just don’t present the same possibilities. “It’ll be a good job reference, but I also feel like we’re just helping hands. We don’t get a lot time to talk to our supervisors about career plans. Which is fine, but part of an internship is to get a little of that,” said Hoang.
Both a fellowship and an internship add experience to a resume, and force you into the real world. Most fellowships require more in depth work, but they also provide an opportunity to see what goes on beneath the surface. If you are looking in a new direction and want to build skills in some new field, then an internship may be the mac to your cheese. Your ship hasn’t sailed yet, so no freaking out. You just need to pick a form of transport and keep an eye on the horizon.