Choosing Your Internship

by Amy Scheuerman

This is one of the most stressful decisions students face when it comes to internships.  Before you have to worry about whether you’ll get the internship you’ve applied for or the funding you need, you need to figure out which internship you’re applying for in the first place.

Decisions decisions

Many of us come to the Friedman School with at least a little bit of a working background.  Maybe you’ve done advertising or spent time in the corporate world.  Maybe you’ve worked on a farm.  Maybe your resume shows your experience with non-profits or maybe it highlights your clinical experience.  Now you have to pick: do you strengthen the resume you’ve already built up over the years, or do you take a walk on the wild side and try something entirely new for your internship.  The thing is, there’s no “right answer.”

Going outside the bubble

For a lot of students the internship requirement is a last chance to try something new.  Once you’ve gotten your degree and start working it’s a lot harder to change your career path.  You may use your internship as an opportunity to explore something different, learn something new, or travel.

“If they haven’t had overseas experience but are interested, I strongly recommend they go overseas,” says Bea Rogers, head of the Food Policy and Applied Nutrition (FPAN) department.  Leaving the country can be difficult (see our International Internships article for tips), but the experience can be amazing.

You may also want to try something different in terms of job experience.  Asta Schuette had plenty of international and NGO experience, but her resume was a little thin when it came to corporate work.  “My resume was definitely geared towards work in international development work.  I interned at the U.N., served in the Peace Corps, and worked for CARE, an international humanitarian aid and development organization,” says Asta.  For her internship she chose to work with Jamba Juice in the Bay Area of California.

“I had a great experience and I learned a lot about the business world which I had no experience with.  I also learned a lot about the food supply chain which proved to be helpful in understanding class material at Friedman.”  Working in a different area can also expand your contact base and provide new networking opportunities.

Building and strengthening

Some students know what they want to do and already have some experience doing it.  For them the internship is a chance to strengthen skills they already possess and continue to impress people in the field they hope to work in after graduation.

Allison Mikita, 2nd year FPAN student already had a strong background in both health and communications from years in medical research, clinic laboratories, and clinics as well as some time at a strategy and management consulting firm. “The professional experience I had in addition to my biology pre-med and English lit background, [meant] I felt fairly confident working in health-related sciences and writing in that realm.” She decided to intern with the public relations (PR) agency Ketchum, in their San Francisco Food  Business to Business group.

After a summer spend working at Ketchum she realized that her education and background gave her an edge in the field, “I was the nutrition or science person among many communications specialists, so I was able to offer my background, and experience how to combine it with the intricacies of business- and food-based communication.”

She also felt that the experience stretched her and allowed her to learn things she wouldn’t have learned elsewhere, although she sometimes had to push to get that experience, “asked for additional nutrition-related work, which I had to cram on top of already assigned work, however it allowed for a more well-rounded experience.”

For first years currently trying to choose an internship Allison has this advice, “I’d advise first year interns to go for what interests them.  It may end up being something they never expected or it can help them build upon their experience, which never hurts.  Also, I suggest that you speak up if you are finding that the work is not what you expected or if you are not challenged.”

Walking the middle line

Professor Jeanne Goldberg, RD, head of the Nutrition Communication department, reminds us that an internship is a way to test out something you think might be the career for you.  After all, how will you really know that this is what you want to spend the rest of your life working on if you haven’t experienced it yet.  Asta Schuette agrees, “If you are making a career change, or just starting out, this is an opportunity to try that job out without much risk.  It’s better to find out that a job isn’t all that you thought after a two month internship than to go through the hiring process, work for a few months and then realize that it’s not the right fit for you.”

“Don’t worry about getting your foot in the door.  Most internships don’t turn into jobs unless it’s explicitly stated at the beginning,” says Professor Goldberg.  Instead she urges students to think of internships as a way to test the waters.  And even though most internships won’t become jobs after graduation, many students who enjoy and excel at their internships get references or even freelance work from them after the summer is over.

Last words of wisdom

In a way it’s impossible to choose the “wrong” internship.  No matter where you go, if you have an open mind and a willingness to work hard you’ll get something out of the experience.  Here are some general tips for picking an internship that you can turn into an amazing learning experience:

  • Find an organization that meshes with your beliefs.  If you’re a hardcore vegan who believes that meat is murder don’t intern with the National Cattleman’s Association.  It’ll just make you mad, which in turn will probably cause you to do a poor job and learn less than if you had worked somewhere else.
  • Don’t sign up until you have a job description.  Internships that say, “Oh, I’m sure we’ll find something for you to do,” are a bad bet.  You want a place that will give you enough supervision that you don’t waste time and enough responsibility that you can test the waters and learn if you’d like to do this as a career.
  • Don’t expect any single internship to fulfill your every hope and dream.  As Professor Rogers points out, “Realize that no single internship will do everything; [you] will end up having to choose.”  Having unrealistic expectations of what your internship can be is a sure way to become disappointed.
  • If you have a bad feeling about it, it’s probably not right for you.  This applies to everything from the job description to the interview.  Don’t like the sound of working in a cubicle all day long?  You may not like the ERS.  Not a good self motivator?  Don’t pick a job that forces you to telecommute and set your own deadlines.  Dislike the boss during the application process?  You’ll be seeing a lot more of her this summer, keep it in mind.

Remember, almost every internship offers something positive.  So, get out there, be bold, and have fun!

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