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Opinion: What I learned as a summer intern

Tips on how to get the most out of your first internship.
<a href="" target="_self">Akshay Thanki</a>

Akshay Thanki

September 29, 2022

One of the key pieces of advice I’ve received from countless teachers, counselors, and advisors is that there’s no better way to experience the real world than with a “hands-on approach.” 

As I learned this summer, a summer internship can do just that — provide an immersive introduction to different career paths, while at the same time, granting insight into college majors and the job market.

In the words of one high school counselor, who spoke with U.S. News and World Report, “working and interacting with various employees and being exposed to the basics of what a future career in the industry would entail gets students out of their high school bubble.” 

This past summer, as a rising senior, I undertook a six-week internship and mentorship through Anaheim’s Innovative Mentoring Experience (AIME) program. Their mission is to partner with businesses and community organizations to provide students in the Anaheim Union High School District with career mentoring, and internship experiences with local businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations. 

Specifically, I worked with Medtronic Neurovascular, a medical device company with local offices in Irvine, conducting research on how virtual reality could help aid stroke care. Over my six weeks, I learned a variety of lessons helpful to anyone in high school interested in working their first internship. 

  • Pay attention to deadlines 

At the start of my internship, I was given a list of projects and assignments that I had to complete at various points throughout my program. It was up to me to keep track of these various due dates, and I saw how easy it could be to fall behind. Treat your internship like the most important class you’ve ever taken, ensuring you finish your work by each deadline. No one will “fail” you necessarily, but you could let the company down in a big way. 

  • Maximize “extra” learning opportunities

Oftentimes, internships will provide additional events outside the work itself to benefit their interns. At Medtronics, for instance, we had a series of guest speakers, as well as optional research assignments. Some of the greatest lessons I learned from my time were from these events, such as when I got to speak to Medtronic’s president, Dan Volz, asking him about the affordability of modern health care. If your internship provides these enriching opportunities, take advantage of them! 

  • Take initiative 

Not every internship will tell you exactly what to do, and when to do it, like your teachers might. Sometimes, you’ll have to take the initiative yourself. Don’t be afraid to speak with your program representative, or the person you report to at the company, for work opportunities. They might not always have something for you to do, but they’ll appreciate the effort, and you’ll make clear your commitment to your role. 

  • Establish your network 

The relationships you form during your internship will likely not be limited to just a few-week period. Often, the friends you make, or the people you meet, could become important in a variety of other situations. For example, high school students will ask a supervisor to write a letter of recommendation; this would be difficult to do, if no one remembers who you are. Make yourself known! On a less official level, meeting people your age with similar career interests could help you form important circles, where each of you help the other. 

  • Ask yourself, “What’s next?”

Often, one internship experience could help build upon another, opening you to a wealth of other opportunities in the future. For instance, my program sparked an interest in the biomedical industry and I now have a better understanding of how medical devices are marketed and developed.

I hope these lessons help you if you’re thinking about having your own first internship, and stay tuned for articles on navigating the professional world!