Over sixty first-year CC, SEAS, and GS students gathered in John Jay Lounge last Friday for the My First Summer Student Panel, the first of four events in the Summer Planning for First-Years workshop series this spring.
In discussion with moderator Patrick Flanagan (CC ‘18), five upperclass panelists shared their tips and lessons gleaned from their first-year summer and beyond.
Where’d they go and what did they do their first summer?
- Amaris Benavidez, a SEAS junior and 2017 panel alum, worked at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth Camp as an RA.
- Mercedes Chien, a CC senior, returned to her hometown of Cupertino, CA to work at Seagate Technologies as a Business Development Intern in the Office of Global Customers and Products.
- Jessie Yan, a SEAS sophomore, worked at the Plasma Physics Lab here on campus as a Research Assistant.
- Miya Lee, a CC senior, worked as a submission reader for the “Modern Love” column at the New York Times.
- Regina Kuhia, a CC junior, conducted a self-designed cardiovascular research project at a medical school back home in Hawaii, and presented her research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Follow your priorities and your interests—and keep an open mind
With so many possibilities out there, where did our panelists begin?
First, they reflected on their top priorities in a summer experience. For Mercedes and Regina, spending summer as close to home as possible was priority number one. Mercedes organized her search by creating a target list of companies close to home and finding internships on their websites, while Regina contacted her research mentor from high school to ask about returning to his lab. For Jessie, it was important to find an opportunity on campus, where she wouldn’t have to navigate work authorization as an international student.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO TRY OUT?
Second, they thought about what they liked, what they wanted to learn, and what kind of experience they wanted to try out. Amaris specifically knew she wanted to work with students, and learned about her position by speaking with her adviser—someone who worked with students too. Mercedes knew that, though there were a lot of tech companies close to home, she’d want a non-tech role, and so started there.
KEEP AN OPEN MIND, BE ATTENTIVE TO WHAT SPARKS YOUR INTEREST
Even if they didn’t know what they wanted going into their summer opportunities search, they kept an open mind and paid attention to what made them sit up and say, “Oh, this sounds cool!” For Jessie, this happened when she asked her classmates about research opportunities with professors and heard about the Plasma Physics Lab, a field she wouldn’t otherwise get to study as an undergrad. For Miya, this happened as she was browsing LionSHARE for opportunities and stumbled upon the Modern Love gig.
Stay organized AND BREAK DOWN THE PROCESS INTO MANAGEABLE PIECES
Panelists agreed that it was crucial to break down their search for a summer opportunity into manageable steps. Some got started over winter break, when they had more downtime, or early in the spring semester. By dedicating just an hour or two a week to this process, it was much easier to fit it in with their busy schedules.
For Amaris, this took the form of “Fridays for the Future,” where starting her first year, she dedicated two hours on Fridays to career exploration and professional development. New Year’s resolution, anyone?
Your first summer is a learning opportunity
That first summer experience armed each panelist with new skills and knowledge—not only about the fields they were working in and about how to navigate, but also, crucially, about how to navigate the work world and their career interests and goals.
TAKE INITIATIVE IN THE WORKPLACE TO LEARN AND GROW SKILLS
Several cited learning how to be proactive in the workplace, from taking initiative to seek out work (or, conversely, navigating a too-heavy workload) to asking their coworkers questions to solve tricky work problems and learn more about career paths in the field. The workplace savviness they gained through their first summer experience has since helped them in their coursework, student leadership positions, and research assistantships on campus.
CONFIRM OR REROUTE YOUR CAREER DIRECTION
For several panelists, that summer helped either confirm or shift the direction they thought they’d go in. Miya, Mercedes, and Jessie all got their first taste of an area of work they’d want to explore further, though they weren’t yet sure where it might lead. Regina was able to confirm her pre-med path, but realized she wanted to shift her focus away from basic science research and toward working with people—a discovery she confirmed the following summer through a public health fellowship abroad. For Amaris, who’d always thought she’d want to go into a Computer Science-related career, her first-year coursework and summer experience completely shifted her career focus, from tech to educational policy.
Because it’s just your first summer, Amaris reminded the audience, you can challenge yourself and even make mistakes—and it will be okay. With three years and two additional summers ahead of you, you don’t have to have it all figured out now.
DESIGN Your next steps
Don’t miss the rest of this first-year series sponsored by CCE, Columbia 101 Live, and Residential Life!
- Feb. 2: So You Want an Internship? Search Strategies for First-Years (1-2:30pm)
- Feb. 9: Resume Office Hours for First-Years (1-3pm)
- Feb. 26: Where Do I Go From Here? Career Exploration for First-Years (1-2: 30pm )
All events will be held in John Jay Lounge.