The Post College Professional

6 Lessons Learned from my Graduate Internship

Posted by Michelle McGuire on Aug 09, 2019

Tags: Your next career move

Friday is the last day of my ten-week internship as a Strategy Intern at a strategy and design consultancy in New York City. I’m feeling proud of my accomplishments, excited to leave my less than ideal summer sublet (NYC housing is rough), and nervous to get back to school mode. But most of all I’m feeling reflective on where my summer internship experience met my expectations and where it didn’t. Here are six lessons I learned during my ten weeks of intern life:

1. It’s hard to stay humble.

I’m an “old” experienced intern with over six years of work experience. I’m interning with two recent grads from undergrad in a small office where the average age feels like it’s 26. I want to say was super easy for me to stay in intern mode 24/7, but I found myself having to deal with my ego. I often felt the urge to want to distance myself from the other interns or make sure people on my team knew just how experienced I am. It’s not a cute look. It took some reflection and maybe a short break or two to humble myself when I felt the ego bubble up.

2. Sometimes you don’t feel like a real member of the team.

If you think about it, being an intern gives you a very strange snapshot into team dynamics. Even though you’re there for a chunk of time, it can feel like you never level up from “visitor” to “member”. While I think my projects did a good job of including me, sometimes people would forget to include me in meetings or share files with me. I quickly learned to not take it personally and keep reminding people to include me in everything.

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3. You need to proactively create the experience you want.

I don’t know why I thought my internship would be a more formal experience with onboarding, lunch and learns, mentoring, feedback sessions, and a debriefing process. Did I get a pretty great welcome and go out to lunch with some awesome senior leadership members? Yes. But I also quickly realized I had to create the experience I wanted. I had to be the one to ask people out to coffee, to solicit feedback, ask for feedback on my resume, ask for professional guidance, and offer myself up for tasks during idle time. I really had to work to insert myself into everyone’s busy lives, projects, and schedules. It was slightly uncomfortable as an introvert, but 100% worth it. It not only helped me get the experience I wanted, but gave me the assurance that team members will remember me when I come asking for guidance next year.

4. You might question your degree.

This was a hard moment for me. I came to a point in the summer when I started questioning why I was in my graduate program. I was looking around realizing that everyone around me managed to get to where they were without a graduate degree. And that people my age were Associate Directors with awesome apartments and I was an intern sleeping on a twin size cot. I went into a bit of a downward spiral until I reminded myself that the only reason I found this career path is my graduate program. While I still feel confident in my decision to go back to school, it was an unnerving moment.

5. Your internship matters as much (or as little) as you want it to.

I genuinely liked my internship. I have more certainty now about my career path and I know I’ll be able to leverage this experience come graduation. The thing is, not everyone likes their internship. Some of my classmates don’t and are struggling with the realization. But at the end of the day, an internship is less than three months of your life. You can shout the company’s name on your resume or erase it completely. It can matter as much or as little as you want it to.

Time flies.

I had an idea of the “ideal” summer internship experience in my head where I was networking, visiting my friends’ agencies, going to events, learning a new technical skill, etc. I didn’t do ANY of those things. It’s hard work to remind yourself to be happy with your experience and not constantly reference the ideal experience in your head. After all, there’s only so much you can fit into one summer internship! And mine is now officially over.

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