Long gone are the days of summer filled with poolside afternoons and umbrella drinks. Instead, I’ve traded in my flip-flops for heels, and my swimsuit for a power suit. This summer will chronicle my journalism internship in a field that’s slightly out of my comfort zone, and test my abilities to become business savvy in the big city.

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This week I got to thinking about competition. I woke up late and reached for the easiest outfit I could think of, a red business casual dress that I had worn last Thursday. Now I apologize to all the men out there because you probably won’t understand this, but there was no way in the name of all that is holy that I could show up to work in the same dress two Thursdays in a row. Thursday is the day that I have lunch with two of my coworkers, and though it is a silly trifle, I challenge my wardrobe to impress on these days. (My “Best Dressed” award from high school will allow for nothing less.)

I was feeling a little silly until in the middle of lunch when one of my coworkers admitted to being late to work that morning. Her reason? She couldn’t find an outfit that we hadn’t already seen her in.

I realized that my life, especially at Northwestern, is largely defined in terms of competition – from my GPA, to my internship, all the way down to the designer name printed on the soles of my shoes. I often think that this high-stress environment is unique to our Northwestern bubble. The desire to be the best far from faded after reading our acceptance letters, and now extends to our resumes, wardrobes and Greek letters.I literally come home to a different world. I admit, Michigan isn’t exactly the most competitive state at the moment, and it’s a much less intense mindset.

But there’s good news. This week at work made me realize that adapting to that competitive mindset for nine months out of the year is making us all aggressive enough to give us a leg up in the competitive market place. My friends from (please excuse the elitist tone) less competitive universities, haven’t seemed nearly as aggressive in pursuing career opportunities as my NU friends. My best friend, an Econ major at NU, is constantly on me about networking every situation I find myself in, which came in handy even when I found myself completely out of my element in a career field that couldn’t be farther from my own.

Friday morning, my editor invited me to tour “Tech Town,” a Detroit incubator and business accelerator for businesses ranging from global bio tech companies to the start up entrepreneurs that are rebuilding the infrastructure of the city. “Talent Champions,” basically glorified career coaches, at Tech Town offer training, career resources and internship placement to post-grads out of work for a variety of reasons. As I listened to the PR spiel, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of what this company does as a form of continued education and support is what Northwestern has already equipped us with by the time we receive our diplomas.

After Tech Town, we headed through the heart of Detroit to Wayne State University’s School of Engineering. Now let me preface this by saying that I am in no means a science person. The combination of my inability to understand a word of “tech lingo” and my hatred of all things mathematical led me to a career in liberal arts and at the same time gave me a HUGE amount of respect for my engineer friends.

I toured the laboratories with the Director of the umbrella company and a friend of my editor who is a brilliant entrepreneur in the mechanical and aerospace engineering design and manufacture industry. No big deal.

I felt like I had stepped into a science fiction movie. I didn’t even know that most of these things were possible let alone in operational existence. From Department of Defense robotics contracts, to revolutionary breast cancer research, to watching neurons grow in an array of guided designs to looking through a $2 million microscope at an atom, I was literally just inches away from technology that would revolutionize the competitive market and the world of science and medicine.

My new engineer friend whispered to me “always be closing on your opportunities,” before striding up to the director and securing himself a partnership with the company that would bring them more revenue and him access to the technology he needed to make his business a brutally competitive force in the market place.

By the end of the tour my jaw was literally hanging open in amazement and my new engineering contact had just made himself what could potentially be a massive company-altering deal.

Third lesson learned: always be closing on your opportunities. It pays off.

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