It’s almost two weeks into September, and I’m only now coming to terms with the fact that summer has come and gone. While most students dread the end of summer because it marks a return to the daily grind of juggling classes, coursework, a job, and a social life, for me heading back to school has always been something to look forward too. A challenge of sorts.
However, this year, for the first time ever – I’m not excited about it. I suspect that some of this unwillingness to return to the classroom stems from the fact that I’ve had a taste of my future career path and going back to school feels like a backwards step.
Like many students who use the summer months to attempt to gain a foothold in their chosen field, I landed a summer internship. My experience was with a Canadian policy research institution specializing in international development called the North-South Institute (NSI). Although I’m thankful to have had this experience, part of me wishes that I had gotten this internship after I graduated instead of before – stopping my newly found career momentum feels counter-productive. But that’s the way it goes.
In the months leading up to my graduation, I really could stand to benefit from a reflection on the valuable lessons that I have learned throughout my internship. At the end of the day, it’s all about building on what you know and refining your skill set to become the best candidate possible for future positions.
Working for the North-South Institute was not my first internship in the field of international development, but it was by far the most educational and enriching experience I have had to date.
When people ask about how my internship went, the first thing that comes to my mind is how fortunate I was to have such amazing colleagues. I can’t oversell the importance of networking and building personal connections with your coworkers! An integral part of success is your ability to cultivate emerging relationships and how well you can leverage your network. Working at NSI provided me with many networking opportunities, and I even got to meet many key international figures, ranging from the President of the World Bank, to member of the Post-2015 High-level Panel, to high ranking officials of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD). Of course, building strong relationships is critical to advancing your career, but developing a rapport with your coworkers is about so much more than reaping the benefits of networking.
Throughout my work term, I held the position of research assistant with the Governance for Equitable Growth team. I was completely blown away by their passion, their work ethic, and the innovative research they were doing.
At first, I was extremely intimidated and felt like I was in way over my head.
My research skills were inadequate, my writing skills far inferior, and my ideas bland and uncreative. When I was first asked to help draft a policy brief I distinctly remember glaring at my computer screen in frustration, overwhelmed by the desire to send it to the trash instead of to my supervisor for review.
Luckily, by the end of my work term I had lightened up a bit and realized I was being far too hard on myself. At 22 years old, and having only studied international development for two years, to place such unattainable expectations on myself was not doing me any favours. For every aspect of life there is a learning curve, and while it is essential to aim high and push yourself in order to improve, there was just no way I was going to be spewing epoch-changing genius when I have only just begun to scratch the surface of the issues I was writing about.
Over the summer months, I continued to become better versed in many of these subjects which helped me to accept that gaining expertise takes time. This learning process can be accelerated in an environment where you have the opportunity to consult experts and ask questions on a daily basis. In my opinion, that is the true benefit of getting work experience and building a rapport with talented coworkers. I’ve often heard the saying ‘surround yourself with greatness, and you will become great’, and I think that will most likely be my strategy moving forward.
Now to get back into student life!