Insights from My First Internship

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Jocel Reyes
A lab workspace with a variety of equipment on the shelves, including test tubes, vials, rubber gloves, and a spiral notebook.

After dozens of applications and nerve-wracking interviews, you finally secured your first internship within your perspective career field! Starting your first internship can be overwhelming, but I am here to say you’re not alone! Last summer, I completed my first internship as a Rice University Research Intern, and I want to share the lessons I learned so you can start your first day with a mindset that will help you succeed. I spent 10 weeks at Rice and while it was a struggle at first, I was able to successfully complete my internship thanks to these 3 lessons:

Manage Expectations

Coming into my first week, I knew how fortunate I was to be selected for my internship, so I placed a lot of pressure on myself to be the best. I took notes, stayed after hours doing lab work, and spent nights outside the office doing research on my research topic. While this helped me be productive, it also stressed me out as when I had issues like bad results, I began to think I was failing. I met with my mentor, and he explained to me that I am not supposed to know everything and that the whole point of an internship is to learn. This was eye opening for me as I finally realized I was my own problem. Simply put, understanding both what is expected of you and what you expect of yourself will prevent you from placing excessive stress upon yourself, and help you focus on learning as much as possible.

Relationship Building is Key

As an introverted person, I was very nervous about meeting new people, so I kept to myself for weeks. At first, it let me focus on my work; however, it eventually got lonely as I would spend hours alone doing lab work or typing up presentations. This changed when a new intern named Robert started and I was given the task of showing him around. Getting to talk with somebody helped me open up and eventually I was jamming to Taylor Swift with my lab mates and sharing stories about life. Building relationships with the people around is a great way to make your internship more enjoyable, but also opens doors to other learning opportunities.

Value Your Personal Time

Many internships are full-time or 40 hours a week, so if you don’t have any experience with that work schedule then it is an adjustment period. I remember struggling my first few weeks because I always felt tired and sluggish, but I was eventually able to get used to the hours. However, what made things worse was how I managed my personal time as I chose to stay late to keep working. The added hours and decreased time to spend with friends or on hobbies made me really dread getting up early in the morning for work. By setting the boundary that work does not seep into personal time, you can speed up your adjustment period and establish a healthy work-life balance.

Ultimately, your first internship is one of the most formative experiences of your life as it prepares you for your future. Keeping this value in mind, managing your mindset is one of the single best ways to get the most out of the experience as the right mindset ensures you are focused on what is important and not placing extra stress on yourself. While not the perfect guide to internships, I hope that these lessons offer some good insight and I wish you look with whatever internship you are about to start. I know you’ll do great!

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