Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Op-Ed: ‘What should I do this summer?’

Between midterms and parties, applying for summer opportunities seems a consideration for next quarter. However, now in my final (fifth) year at Stanford, I thought it worthy to share one hard-earned lesson: autumn quarter is the perfect time to think about what’s out there. There’s no need to actually apply for anything just yet. However, being deliberate about seeking opportunities can yield a wealth of options, and you’ll be much better connected and prepared come winter quarter.

Starting now helps you get connected. Some of the best opportunities are off the beaten path. Indeed, especially in the nonprofit sector, roughly only one out of five jobs or internships is found through resume submission and formal recruiting. Your chances of being hired or accepted to a fellowship depend in large part on your connections. In exploring your options, you inevitably will contact people that will be your future aides and advocates. But developing relationships takes time.

Starting now also helps you prepare. Scouting around now will allow you sufficient time to comfortably apply for desired options. Whatever you pursue, thinking about your summer before the deadlines start rolling helps you to avoid the frenzy later and the potential for taking a job “because there was nothing else.” Especially for summer fellowships, being able to plan for deadlines, ask for recommendations and develop solid proposals requires effort comparable to two or three units—so spread out the work! Finally, you’ll definitely want to know what you want when the winter quarter slew of “calls for applications” starts flooding your inbox. Applying selectively keeps you sane.

Most importantly, being thoughtful and reflective about your summer plans at this time of year helps you develop personally as well as professionally. I seem to be advocating “networking,” but in honesty I’m calling for the exact opposite: build genuine relationships with people by learning what they care about and what drives them! Don’t wait till the last minute to call people just to ask them for help. The difference between resume padding and authenticity is ultimately in how well you know yourself. But knowing yourself takes concerted effort and time. A fulfilling summer placement can be life-changing, but only if you plan ahead to find the right fit.

Luckily, there are multiple avenues to learning about summer opportunities on campus.

First, actively reach out to friends who had summer experiences you admire. Human beings love talking about themselves. Alumni—perhaps some reading this newspaper right now—are generally willing to offer support if they have time. Professors are frequently crunched for time but are almost always willing to help you have some sense of what you want. Whether returning from an internship or a public service project, your friends are likely to have a wealth of ideas about their experience. Even ask someone in your class about their summer experience, and if something clicks, follow up for coffee! I mean, there can be other incentives involved, especially if they’re cute.

Second, several organizations want to help you. The Career Development Center has a great job database, for starters. Departments frequently advertise funding opportunities to conduct summer research—just ask the student affairs staff in the department. Pre-professional groups generally have officers or members who are happy to direct you to opportunities. For example, the new Education and Society Theme House collects education-related opportunities both on and off campus. The Stanford Premedical Society can connect you with research opportunities.

Last, I make especial mention of fellowship programs on campus. Fellowships are designed to give passionate students an opportunity to explore a field before they have developed significant skills to be hired. Furthermore, if you are cash strapped or on financial aid (as I am), a fellowship allows you to explore options that are otherwise limited to those who can afford to volunteer. For example, summer research fellowships frequently lead to longer-term projects. If you desire to serve and learn more about service, I highly recommend the Haas Center Fellowships, ranging from LGBT rights and working in Africa to arts education and curriculum design. Most participants return with life-altering experiences.

In any case, start exploring!

James Chu

Sociology MA ’11