Part II: How I defined the criteria to create my dream internship
Everyone goes to graduate school with varying intentions and priorities. For many of my younger classmates who were coming straight from undergraduate programs, their priorities were to use the MPH degree as a stepping stone to get to a terminal degree (doctorate, business professional, etc.). For the older folks (like me), the purpose of graduate school was to have a personally and professionally enriching experience where networking, exploring opportunities across the university, and remaining out of our comfort zone by experimenting with different projects took priority.
It was extremely important to me to make my summer internship as fruitful as possible. I knew it was a sliver of time in my life that I wanted to use wisely and accomplish some personal goals that I wasn’t able to previously — like studying abroad, or joining the Peace Corps. I took this chance very seriously and am still so proud that I got exactly what I wanted from it.
There are a few basic criteria to consider when you’re thinking about your summer internship.
What areas of public health are you passionate about?
Climate change, clinical research, healthcare administration? Whatever your interest is, absolutely pursue it for your internship. I can’t stress enough how the summer internship is meant to be an experimental time that allows you to expand your boundaries and how limited that time can be in your career! If you have more than one passion, narrow it down to a few and commit to one that makes the most sense for you at that point in time.
What are the requirements of your internship set forth by your program?
If you are in a program that requires you to complete a certain number of hours of work, or work for a place that requires practicing a particular skill set (could be based on your concentration, like SAS programming if you are concentrating in Biostatistics), or requires that you work for local organizations, review these criteria to understand the landscape you have to search within.
What do you want to get out of your internship?
Are you interested in a unique experience? Are you looking for some stability and an easy summer? Think about how you want to spend your 3 months and envision yourself by the end of them. How are you feeling?
Do you want to work internationally or domestically?
My priority was to look for international opportunities first, so I started searching very early on (before spring semester started during winter break). My plan was to scope out whether it was possible ahead of time so that if it didn’t work out, I could start reaching out to domestic organizations soon afterwards. If you are looking internationally, think about what regions of the world pique your interest and start looking for organizations that are aligned with your professional goals.
What type of setting do you want to work in?
Do you want to work for a well-known organization with a reputable name (like the World Health Organization), or a smaller organization that has a more grassroots approach? Do you want to be in the field or in an office, or both? Do you see yourself working in another country and possibly living outside of your comfort zone, or are you working in a big city in a high rise building? What does your daily commute look like? Who are you working with on a day to day basis? What do you want to be doing after work or on your weekends? All of these are important questions to consider when you envision your future self. Personally, I preferred a safer living situation since I wanted to spend my summer in India, so I purposefully chose to look for opportunities in big cities in India like Mumbai, Ahmedabad, and Delhi.
What are skills do you want to practice during your internship?
When I was searching for an internship, I specifically looked for research opportunities where I could apply some of my theoretical knowledge on the field. For example, my concentration was Chronic Disease Epidemiology, so I looked for research positions at hospitals where I could practice some of the epidemiological skills I learned in my coursework. I recommend keeping this in mind but remaining flexible since you never know what other unique responsibilities you may get that can influence your interests.
Are you looking for an opportunity that will contribute to your thesis or practicum?
If you are writing a thesis, final paper, or completing a practicum by the end of your program, you can save a lot of time and effort on that work by using the resources from your internship towards that final project. For example, if you are working with a large research organization and you have to complete a thesis by the end of your graduate program, you can ask the organization if you can use their data for your thesis work. I did not have the opportunity to use the data I worked with for my thesis, but because my internship fulfilled so many other qualities I was looking for, I was willing to let this go.
What type of funding is available to help you make your decision?
If you are choosing to work for an international organization, you can expect to be signing up for an unpaid internship. If you know you won’t be getting paid, it’s extremely important to look for grants and scholarships that will fund your summer. Look across your university to understand what type of funding exists and for which causes. You can then pivot your search to find an opportunity that will fit the cause of the funding to apply, or if you’ve already committed to an internship, you can strategically write your funding proposal in a way that fits into the cause. I’ll go into this in a separate post, but having the money to support your summer is crucial and should be prioritized ahead of time.
Up next: How I secured $6000 that covered my summer internship