Whether your eventual career plans see you going on an academic route, an industry route, or somewhat altogether different, one of the most powerful tools we have to explore what we’re most suitable to is summer internships. While many of us do research in labs or volunteer in areas of niche interest during the academic year, being able to dedicate your full attention to some project or job is a wildly different experience than balancing a full slate of classes and working and trying to learn about some area of interest. It’s often the case that taking on more immersive experiences in fields that we think we’re interested in leads to some clarity about what exactly it is that we do or do not want to pursue in the future, and thus whatever your experience may be, you’ll typically end up narrowing your interests afterwards for better or worse.
As someone who’s always had medicine and research at the forefront of my ultimate career goals, it was natural that I would gravitate towards research and some type of shadowing or caretaking volunteer experiences. In my first two years at Cornell, I have taken advantage of two incredible summer undergraduate research experiences and the Cornell alumni network in finding immersive winter shadowing experiences. The summer research experiences were wildly different from one another in that one was in-person on the Ithaca, Cornell campus, and the other was remote with Boston University (due to COVID). However, more than just being different in terms of execution, both of the experiences had me doing very different work, and the structure of both programs benefitted my career plans in different ways.
My first summer research experience taught me about the intricacies of scientific research and how it’s not enough to have some niche skill and hope to analyze data later on, but rather, it’s important to think like a researcher in interpreting what’s happening with your work in real time. The seminars hosted by the program were geared towards developing my scientific thinking and presentations skills, both of which are incredibly important. However, my second research experience also emphasized this idea, but from a different lens. The experience from this past summer taught me about the value of working independently in formulating a project from literature search to drawing conclusions from data. Moreover, the seminars hosted by this program were more geared to someone pursuing medicine-related research. This was exactly the ball-park I want to work within, so it helped me solidify what I thought would be something I would love, and it opened my eyes to the various paths one can take to achieve a fulfilling career in my fields of interest.
Thinking about my winter experiences, I definitely had to put in a more conscious effort in constructing a series of things to do. It’s often difficult to find a pre-structed winter experience given the time constraints, but with a little thought and helpful mentors it became a matter of putting together pieces of things I couldn’t accomplish while balancing classes and working duties during the semester. For me, this translated to shadowing, and updating my CV, resume, and medical/graduate school search list. I know that many people would roll their eyes at the thought of structuring these activities into an otherwise short winter break, but it’s surprising how fun it can be to work on these things when there’s no schoolwork-imposed stressors. It is totally necessary and reasonable to take breaks during your break, especially when ending a hard semester, so I always make sure that I take the time to recharge, but having these mini-projects along the way helps keep me occupied when I’m feeling fidgety from a lack of having something to do. Additionally, I like to think that everything I do helps me get a couple steps closer to the career of my dreams, so I often think to that truth as my inspiration and it makes the process a lot more fun.
Regardless of the dynamics of fun versus labor-intensive experiences, taking on activities, or creating your own experiences when it comes to your winters and summers can be incredibly enlightening. As students it’s nearly impossible to get the full grad-school or industry experience during our semesters, so it’s hard to know if these fields of interest are truly something that you want to pursue or not. Thus, these summer/winter periods are amazing in that you have the time to go explore the fields/jobs that speak to you and solidify or modify what your next steps are, and it doesn’t hurt to find programs that pay you to do so. Looking back on my time in college so far, my summer and winter experiences have brought me a great deal of clarity and hope in that I’ve established a better picture of who I want to be as a future physician-scientist and I’ve been able to dig out some pathways to get there. Finding and applying to these experiences isn’t always the easiest, but you’d be surprised what a Google deep dive can do when it comes to exposing what opportunities exist in the world. Likewise, speaking of the world, it’s important to keep in mind that your potential experiences are not limited to one country. For those with the yearn to travel, undergraduate career experiences can take you to all corners of the globe is you so wish. So, to any person teetering on the idea of pursuing an experience, I fully endorse it. The type of experience you get in these programs is unparalleled by any “Day in the Life” vlogs or articles from someone already in the field you want to pursue. Taking a step into your potential future life is exhilarating, and it puts into context a lot of what we do in our academic life and why we do it, so I cannot say with any greater fervor, go for it.
Cisco Espinosa, ’22