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Start applying: why internships are a valuable part of the college experience

Sophia Koch

December 13, 2017

In high school, I never heard much about internships. It was a word I heard from time to time, but I never quite bothered to find out exactly what they were, and it was never impressed on me just how important they are once you get to college.

To all freshmen starting college: start looking for them now.

I was told that you really don’t have to worry about them until your sophomore year. That’s true, to a degree, since most employers are looking for someone with a bit more experience and probably won’t hire a first-year college student. This is not, however, the rule – I recently met someone who got an internship in his first year of college.

The advantage of internships is that they’re easy to get into relative to entry level jobs in high-competition fields. They can give you a toe in the door as you’re taking your first tentative steps into your career path of choice.

Last summer, I ended up with an intern position with a group called the St. Croix River Association, and it proved to be the spark that has me excited for the rest of the world. It occurred to me that I’ve been going to school pretty much constantly since I was five, and this opportunity was a nice reminder that there’s a lot of things out there that I can do with my life.

One of the weirder things was being paid to do work that I usually pay others for the privilege of doing. Three years of writing for professors in the form of homework assignments had me subliminally convinced that my work is not worth money to anyone. It was a pleasant surprise to find myself earning a modest paycheck for the writing projects that I did over the summer.

Writing aside, I also got a chance to work on a wide variety of field research projects that are going on along the St. Croix River. The SCRA was very good about getting me and the other three interns out on as many practical, experience-gathering projects as they could.  I ended up doing everything from invasive species monitoring and eradication to public outreach and social media management. As a nice bonus, I also ended up certified for kayak safety and CPR.

As far as highlights go, the time I was chased around a boat by an angry soft-shelled turtle probably takes the cake. I had no idea they could move so fast.

Overall, the experience was good for me as a person and as an aspiring science journalist. I’ve now got articles and posts that I was paid to write and can now stick in my portfolio to show to future potential employers. I can also say that I’ve worked with researchers in the field and know how science in the natural resource department works.

Internships are a valuable opportunity, and freshmen should start applying for them their first year. Google your field with the word “internship” attached to the end. Ask professors and advisers what options are available to you. Check out your department’s “career” bulletin boards and fill out applications to places you’re not even sure you want to go to.

Early on, the chances of landing a prime position are not high, but you will at the least get a feel for how the system works – when the due dates usually are, what sorts of documents are required, how to handle yourself during an interview, etc.

Who knows? Perhaps you’ll get lucky and snag one.

Sophia Koch is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.


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