While one group of CSULB BUILD Scholars were participating in the Summer Undergraduate Research Gateway to Excellence (SURGE) program here on campus, others were working in internships throughout the country and across the globe. Summer internships were as close as University of California Irvine (UCI) and University of California San Diego, and as far flung as University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Argentina, and New Zealand. While each Scholar had a unique experience, many learned a few universal lessons.
“I learned that a Ph.D. program is very different from a Bachelor’s program,” said Alica Corrales, a Psychology major, who participated in the UCI SURF Program. “There is less structure and supervision, so you need to be disciplined enough to create your own schedule and timeframe to accomplish what needs to be accomplished, and motivated enough to figure things out on your own when necessary.”
Internships are excellent crucibles for students to learn not only about what comes next in their studies, but also in growing and learning more about themselves. “I had a hard time believing that I had the qualifications to do research in such a prestigious school,” said Robbin Nameki, a Biology major who also interned at UCI. “In the beginning, I missed Long Beach and didn’t feel like I belonged there. But in the end, I think I was able to prove to myself that I am capable…. I’m very glad I pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone.”
Another UCI intern, Genesis Gutierrez who is a Health Science major, felt she had grown comfortable in her CSULB lab and the internship pushed her to discover her limitations. “I learned that I still have a lot to learn.”
To be successful in school and in life, it is often important to push through patches that can feel uncomfortable. “I learned the merit of perseverance and never giving up when it seems nothing is going right,” said Selina Urfano, a Microbiology major whose internship was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, through the Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training (MHIRT) Program.
Since internships get you out of environments that you may have become comfortable in, internships are great opportunities to expand skills, both in regards to research techniques and life skills. “I learned about the importance of skills such as organization, self-motivation, being a team player and timeliness,” said Amalia Lira, who interned at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “Among others, I learned that these skills are essential for being successful as a graduate student.”
Summer internships at R1 universities provide hands-on research experiences in which undergraduate interns work side by side with doctoral students, giving them a window into what they can expect when they take that next step. Gina Vimbela, a Chemical Engineering major who interned at Brown University, said she “learned more about the research process, how to successfully follow a project from a proposal to publishing its findings. I learned how conducting research can be different from institution to institution, also from principal investigator to principal investigator, and how you spearhead your research as a doctoral student.”
Aminah Tamimi, a Mechanical Engineering major who interned at UCI, felt she gained a better handle on what it takes to become a successful researcher through her internship experience. “I not only gained research experience, but I also got a glimpse of the milestones that Ph.D. students need to complete for graduation.”
While some students participated in formal internship programs, others made special arrangements, creating their own custom internships. Lori Digal, a Chemistry major, arranged for a summer research placement with her CSULB mentor’s collaborator in Dunedin, New Zealand. And Sima Chokr, a Biology major, created her unique internship at the University of California Riverside.
Creating their own training opportunities can open students up to more opportunities for research at a research-intensive university without being limited to those universities with existing summer internship programs. Also, it can empower the students to take more charge of their educational journey by increasing a sense of ownership of their experiences.
However, one caveat for going this route is that it puts a much higher burden on the student to create the internship experience. Some students may wish to be a part of a more defined program as they may have to create their own structure, which can be difficult in some settings.
Regardless if students participate in more formalized programs, or create them on their own, what they get out of it is up to them. CSULB BUILD interns suggested that a mixture of pre-internship research and coordination, active participation during the program and a forward-thinking can-do attitude will provide the best chances for success.
Coming up in Part Two: Preparing for Graduate School