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Intern Blog

Jessica's Blog - Industrial/Organizational Psychology

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Final entry-May 7, 2009

Feliz Cinco de Mayo! Everyone at the office has decided to celebrate Cinco de Mayo since swine flu prevented Mexico from observing it - we couldn't let a good holiday go uncelebrated. :-) Or pass any opportunity to indulge in sopapillas or tres leches cake!

Since my last entry I've wrapped up a major project that consumed me for the past few months (and cost me a few clumps of my hair).  To put simply, I was updating the programming language code for the analysis software used to score the tests and then also creating a sort of manual that would help anyone unfamiliar with this particular test understand the statistical process of how it is scored.  More fun than it sounds - I promise!

Looking at the finished product, I can’t believe how far I've come this year through my internship and complementary coursework.  Had they asked me to do this same project last August, they would have been shot a deer-in-the-headlights expression.  However, despite my fervent efforts and overachieving obsession with perfectionism, a mistake slipped into my 80-page report. A noticeable mistake.  In fact, the mistake I made was detected by a group of people on other side of the country who I have never met - oopsie! Lesson learned.

Embarrassment is often hard for an intern to avoid.  Hindsight, I like to think that you can measure how good an internship is by the amount of anxiety and embarrassment (and yes, sometimes downright humiliation) that you experience – sometimes these negative experiences create the biggest learning impact. (Not to mention they can make for entertaining reminiscences further down the road!)

As you may recall, when I started this internship I was absolutely clueless, another starry-eyed hopeful begging for experience, so you can imagine my enormous hesitation to blog about it and broadcast my blunders to the world (to further illustrate, if I may once again quote Kansas lyrics: "how can one fool make another wise?"). 

However, after six months on the job, to say I got the experience that I wanted is an understatement and I feel drenched with insight.  The idea of cramming all I’ve learned into a single blog seems as onerous as completely redoing the semester’s work, but hopefully you can take something away from my condensed reflections and tales of my trials and tribulations.

If I had to name what I liked least about my internship, it would have to be the insanely long commute to the Cities and then having to wake up before the crack of lunch in order to make that commute (especially when going to bed early isn’t an option as the boisterous roar of the St Cloud nightlife seeps in through my window, reminding me of the outside life sacrificed for these newfound responsibilities).

It was also hard to be thrown into a new office language filled with technical jargon – it often felt like I was drowning in a soup of acronyms with no “Rosetta Stone” to keep me afloat. As with any new job, you go through a period when you feel like you know jack and there’s this impossibly massive void in your knowledge base.  That couples with the other half of newcomer’s angst, marked by inside jokes you don’t get and the one guy whose name you just cannot remember.

What I have liked most about my internship is how all the unexpected knowledge I have gained. I have received such a vast amount of advice and insight that have made my experience invaluable.  The potential is also exhilarating – my supervisor and coworkers are always asking what I’m interested/what my future plans are so they can help cater my internship to prepare me for my future aspirations.  Unfortunately for me I have absolutely no idea so my goal is just to be very well-rounded. It sucks trying to lay out a succinct and detailed plan for your future – but the effort is definitely worth it.  That knowledge can help you to choose an internship that will help you develop that desired skill-set or one that you want to continue working at after graduation.  A well-laid plan may also help you enroll in electives that can help you prepare for the internship.

Other thoughts on being a good intern:

  • Don’t hyperventilate on your first day – it’s normal to be overwhelmed.
  • Don’t let the "intern blues" get the best of you – when honeymoon period is over, you feel like you’re in a rut, and your motivation is lacking, stay strong.  It’s easy to start flaking out, especially if your internship is unpaid or you decided you’re no longer interested in that area.  
  • Mind the generation gap: our generation tends prefer a laid-back office culture.  However, many of your coworkers or supervisors may still value the traditional office atmosphere and may be offended by your flip-flops and tendency to be even a few minutes late.  And no matter how stealthy you think you are, people can hear you texting.
  • Take it seriously – it seems commonsense but I can’t say it enough.  An internship is like an 11-15 week job interview – if you decide you don’t want the job, you’re still going to want a positive reference.
  • Keep a journal! You should walk away from a good internship with lots of résumé filler and portfolio stuffing.  Try and keep as many specific details as possible about your projects and tasks and their outcomes.

Just when I thought my paper-chain countdown had run out of links, my boss surprised me with an offer to continue working during the summer – hooray! The deal is sealed and my name is even engraved on a little sign adorning my cubicle. I'm pumped to be done with school nonesuch and to be able to invest myself completely into my internship.  It's crazy to think the school year is over and that with one year remaining I am half way done with my Master's degree. One more year and I have to find a real job - eek!


Fourth update- April 22, 2009:

"I have dirt for you."

 After taking a few school-related days off of my internship, I return to work to find this message from a coworker in a different department scribbled on a Post-It left on my desk.  Apparently it caused quite the scandal - I was told my boss saw the note and went to the author to get to the bottom of this juicy gossip.  Much to his surprise, "dirt" literally meant dirt.  My coworker shares my passion for gardening and offered me some potting soil, which I graciously accepted (my coworkers also spoil me with free seeds - have I mentioned lately how much I looooooooove where I work?!).

 Although we all had a laugh about the misunderstanding, it brings up an important lesson: avoid the rumor-mill! This should go without saying, but a keen sense of office etiquette is a MUST especially for interns whose professionalism is constantly being evaluated.  It may be tempting to divulge in a little gossip and participating may seem like a short-cut to winning coworkers over, but there are better ways! Of course, the best way is to dazzle them with your integrity and impressive work ethic (ok, if you really insist on a short-cut, baked goods are harmless). Gossip and other silly nonesuch is a big red flag that you don’t want to tarnish your reputation.

It is tough finding the delicate balance of exhibiting personal and professional behavior. While reasons to avoid giving too much personal information should go without saying, I think it’s also important to not completely hide your personal side.  Obsessing over being the perfect intern can turn anyone into an uptight "InternBot," but it’s important to remember that a good intern can still have a personality.   Contributing ideas and being an active team player will prevent you from fading into the background.  Many interns are afraid to ask questions and raise concerns lest they appear incompetent, but everyone knows it’s a learning experience and interns won't know everything.  Don’t completely censor out your weaknesses, as you may miss an important developmental opportunity.  Most internships are flexible enough that if you express interest to your employer, they can give you a chance to wear multiple hats and experience different aspects of the organization.  Being open can also solve other problems – I recently confessed some anxiety about an upcoming final project for one of my classes and a coworker suggested some fantastic resources to solve my problems.  Be open-minded about new ideas and procedures - remember that you don't know everything and that your professors didn't teach you everything.

Communication lessons aside, my internship is still going great.  It's been a few months and the new-job excitement has worn off and I find myself occupied with less glamorous tasks (data-entry, lit reviews, etc.) but I'm keeping an open mind and treating each task as a meaningful lesson, trying to keep myself challenged and remembering how much potential this internship has.


Third update-April 9, 2009:

Oof - I groggily plop down to write this, still weary and wayworn from my recent travels. I had the amazing opportunity to spend last week in New Orleans for an industrial/organizational psychology conference and be submerged in the scholastic excitement of the field.  One of the best parts of the conference was seeing some of my coworkers from my internship there.  I was even able to attend one of their presentations--it was really exciting to see their contributions to the field and the active role that our company has in the psychology community. I never realized how frequently my coworkers publish and present research – they are all so talented.  I am so fortunate to work with such inspiring and competent people.

However, I certainly don’t have to travel across the country to appreciate them professionally.  I always look forward to lunch time at the office, not because I get to indulge in decadent Ramen noodles or PB&J, but I love to be absorbed by their lunchroom tales.  They share the most fascinating advice on a variety of topics, everything from professional dress to ways to pimp my salad.  Most importantly they share with me their personal paths to success and give me tried-and-true helpful hints on making the most educational and professional opportunities that I have now. They’ve really taught me the importance of always looking ahead at my next step in life and always turning it back to think about what I can do now that will make that transition flawless. They have suggested lots of professional associations and even name-dropped a few Who’s Who and how to meet them.  Specifically in our industry that will be beneficial to me in the future. They’ve also warned me against backing myself in a corner and to always ensure that I have a wide variety of experiences and coursework to draw from when pursuing future endeavors, not that I overspecialize and am marketable only in a narrow aspect of the field.

Most importantly (and ironically), they have convinced me to change my program plan.  In the Industrial/Organizational psychology program here, students can either choose the internship/practicum route or write a thesis to satisfy graduation requirements. Obviously I chose the internship route resultant out of a tinge of laziness but mostly a fear of data collection; I love research and conducting studies but finding participants is always a nightmare. Not only did my coworkers convince me to write a thesis lest I choose to pursue my Ph. D. (who knew the majority of Ph. D. programs require a Master’s thesis and that I would have had to do one on my own if I wouldn’t do it when I have the chance right now!), but they also told me that I would have access to the company’s archival data. How amazing is that! They have so much random data lying around that the possible thesis topics are limitless.

I can’t emphasize enough the value of utilizing the resource of your coworkers and supervisors. Their experience gives them immeasurable insight and no doubt their recommendations for which classes to take, where else to pursue experience, etc., will be tremendously beneficial to you.


Second update-March 25, 2009:

A few more weeks have passed and I’ve got a few more completed projects under my belt.  I think the most surprising part about my internship is the variety of my tasks.  Various members of the research team are always coming to me with the oddest assortment of the most interesting assignments.  Normally I like know to expect every day and begin mentally preparing myself as soon as my alarm clock yanks me from my dreams; however, in this case I am glad that my position knows no routine.  I learn something new every day – no course or stack of textbooks can teach the breadth and brevity of what I have learned thus far as effectively this internship experience.

No doubt the toughest part of the internship is the challenge of balancing work and school (not to mention trying to squeeze in a bit of "other," of course!).  Unfortunately the city of St. Cloud has very few opportunities for internships that satisfy my program’s graduation requirements so I had to seek out an internship in the Cities.  Consequently my commute to work is an hour and fifteen minutes sans rush hour and with good weather.  I usually make it to the office twice a week so that’s about six hours of my week spent just driving to and from work.  Needless to say I’m sick of all the music on my iPod, so I’ve been crushing audiobooks to pass the time (if only my textbooks were available in an .mp3 format my problems would be solved).  As soon as I get home I dive straight into homework until I pass out on one any select psychology book.  The balancing act has been pretty intense and my time management skills got a much needed sharpening (little did I know how much time I was wasting sending bumper stickers to my friends or reading FML stories).  Although this workload can create a tremendous sense of accomplishment, it left me feeling utterly deflated.  Push came to shove: minutes and eventually hours were being shaved off of my workout schedule to free up time.  The time crunch and stress started snowballing and it didn’t take long before I was tenaciously… crabby (to put delicately).  I quickly learned another subliminal lesson from the experience: for me, exercise is meditative and is it not to be compromised if I want to maintain my physical and mental health.  I [re]learned the importance of taking care of myself and not getting too caught up in the chaos of my responsibilities.  Just another life lesson that I thought I mastered in undergrad but yet another time I find my life reflected in Kansas lyrics: "If I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don’t know."


First update-March 25, 2009:

My internship has finally begun and the first few weeks have been great! The entire office has been so warm and welcoming as I get settled in.  Our office is one of the company’s three branches in the country, and although there are several departments at our location our office is quite small.  It feels even smaller and almost abandoned as the type of work allows for many employees to work from home (a luxury that I’ve learned not to take for granted as I reunite with long winter commutes).  There are certainly advantages to small work environments as everyone is closely-knit and I immediately become of aware of their intimate and genuine support for each other.

The majority of my first day was split between becoming acquainted with the office and filling out a mountain of paperwork.  First days are always nerve-racking as you get ushered around, being quickly introduced to a blur of new faces, trying to remember all the small chit-chatty details while never forgetting impression management.  The paperwork is the usual mundane nonesuch drug policies, sexual harassment policies, etc. and it’s hard for my attention to not drift to the quaint suburban street visible from my cubicle.

Orienting tasks completed, I settle in at my computer to begin my first work assignment: a comprehensive literature review that will be used to help develop a new product.  Although seemingly tedious, this first assignment is easy after my first semester’s classes at SCSU, as reading torrents of journal articles is now second nature.  The content is also parallel to my current coursework and I often find myself absorbed in the new information.  I am conscious of my pace and strive to prove my efficiency to my supervisor and coworkers.  Although I am the only current intern, I worry of being compared to the previous intern, whose stellar showcase of competence still lingers in everyone’s minds.  However even the slightest tinge of self-conscious anxiety quickly dissolves as I receive consistent support from my supervisor and coworkers.  They are so receptive to my questions and concerns that my first few weeks have undoubtedly been a positive experience thus far.

- Jessica

Introduction March 18, 2009:

It's that magical time of year when the pressure of finding an internship begins to mount, forcing you to dedicate what sparse free time remains after class, homework, jobs, and extracurriculars to scour the internet and exhaust resources in hopes of finding open positions. Then comes the task of finding the time to actually apply to these positions, carefully catering your résumé, gathering letters of recommendation, and polishing off that portfolio, is another daunting task in itself. And to exacerbate the stress of this daunting process, current economic conditions have made the competition even more brutal as organizations cut funding, eliminate jobs, and as jobless college graduates get desperate and hijack the remaining few internship positions.

That in mind, I wish that from my own internship pursuit experience I could draw for you a map to this Holy Grail, expelling fool-proof secrets and savvy tricks to save you from the misery I endured during my undergrad.  While I was an undergrad at Columbia College, in Columbia, SC, I attended every job fair, résumé-writing workshop, and interview practice session I came across, but despite my fervent preparation the majority of efforts were fruitless and my only triumph was not paid nor glamorous.

Now at SCSU, I’m in my first year of the Industrial/Organizational Psychology master’s program and my internship search began as soon as I moved here. My initial search criteria: anything that would satisfy graduation requirements.

I did not get far in the search process when by happenstance one of my professors forwarded information about an internship with a test publisher that he had experience with. The position was in the research department and was a perfect match for my background and interests.  Though I’m still not certain in which direction in the field of I/O psychology I will forge my career path, I am certain of my penchant for research. My time as an undergrad was consumed with psychology research and the prospect of a graduate research assistantship lured me to SCSU. To further bait my interest, this internship position also involves ample reading and writing, my other loves, and another indication of a perfect match as my skills in this area were cultivated by my other undergraduate degree in English. Most importantly, this internship interested me because it would utilize a wide variety of knowledge within the field, whereas other internships are focused in specific areas. 

Though I am confident of our compatibility, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by all that I do not know. Specifically, my knowledge of the publishing field is nil and I also question my adequacy with the technical aspects of research, such as the statistical and psychometric aspects along with the analysis software that I will use on a regular basis. Granted there is some comfort in the lowered expectations of an intern, as the title is practically synonymous with "bewildered novice" so I know they are prepared for my inexperience; however I still have high expectations for myself.  The pressure of an intern to impress and earn endorsement can feel suffocating, but at the same time these challenges are exhilarating. I am so excited and grateful for this engaging opportunity to demonstrate and see the application of my classroom knowledge in a real-world setting.

- Jessica


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