Towards the end of fall quarter last year I began searching online for potential organizations to intern or work at this summer. This seemed like an impossible mission seeing as I had no idea where I wanted to work, what I wanted to do, what marketable skills I had, or how I was going to make enough money to live anywhere other than my parents house. After perusing the UCS databases and doing countless Google searches, I came across IMPACT Program – a nonprofit research organization affiliated with Feinberg that studies lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) health and development in Chicago at the Center on Halsted. There was no indication of any job opening but I decided to just give it a shot and emailed the Assistant Director who invited me to interview. Though I was almost entirely certain that I bombed the interview, I was ecstatic when they offered me a position as a research intern.
With an internship secured I was able to relax and enjoy winter quarter while my friends frantically scrambled to find something to do for the summer. The only thing that was left was finding some way to actually earn a living during my bound-to-be-glorious, yet very much unpaid, internship. Looking around at the oh so lovely Evanston Jewel Osco, Whole Foods, and Target, I decided that working a second job to support myself would be less than ideal. Fortunately, I came across UCS’s Summer Internship Grant Program (SIGP), which I applied for in the spring. I was happy when I got my internship at IMPACT but receiving funding from SIGP was truly the icing on the cake. Long gone were my worries of working double shifts, an exclusively Ramen diet, or sleeping in the basement of Tech. I was now able to sublet an apartment, invest in some snazzy business casual attire, and buy groceries like a real person. I was pumped to have a great summer internship experience.
My first few days at IMPACT were a little intimidating to say the least and I was very grateful to have had some guidance set forth from UCS and SIGP. One of our first assignments was to meet with our supervisor and set goals and expectations. Though I understood the potential benefits of doing this, I felt a little awkward asking him to meet with me like that and was glad I could justify it as something I “had to do for my grant” and not something I came up with on my own. However, looking back, I would recommend this type of meeting for any new intern or employee. Despite my hesitations about the assignment, my supervisor said it was something they like to do with interns and he appreciated my initiative and desire to set goals. I think a meeting like this is a great way to show your supervisor that you really are serious about your job and clear up any misunderstandings about expectations.
When I started working at IMPACT, my initial task was to transcribe interviews of young LGBT couples talking about relationships, role models, safe sex, and healthy relationship programs. Though transcription was not exactly the most exciting part of my summer, it was a great introduction to the research and some of the problems that other LGBT young people face. I also found that I had quite the knack for it (yay marketable skills!) and was able to complete them with great efficiency and accuracy, much to the delight of my supervisor.
As I got closer to completing the transcription assignment, I began training to interview participants as part of the research study. This part of my internship is what I feel has affected me the most. Not only have a learned the invaluable skill of how to appropriately conduct a face-to-face interview – or better, how to ask young people pretty invasive questions about their life experiences, mental health, and alcohol and substance use – I have gained experience in interacting with a wide range of people different from myself and have learned a great deal about the problems that they face. I have read articles published by IMPACT on the resiliency of LGBT young people but I have also spoken with these young people and seen firsthand how much they’ve overcome. These experiences and the interviewing skills I have acquired will certainly be helpful in my career as a physician and I hope to continue to improve them while working with IMPACT as a work-study student in the fall.
Aside from interviewing, I have also learned more about the research process. My courses as a biology major have taught me a lot about research involving lab coats and petri dishes, but this summer I learned about the different processes involved in social science research. Furthermore, through SIGP, I have had the opportunity to reflect on this work and how it relates to my future career goals. I had never before considered a career in research and now, though I still hope to attend medical school, I see research as another potential opportunity. Even I don’t choose that path, my work at IMPACT has reinforced in me the importance of community involvement and outreach and as a medical doctor I hope to work in an area where I can improve the health and healthcare of LGBT individuals.
About the NU Intern Blogger Program
This summer, over 50 Northwestern University students will be sharing stories about what they are experiencing at their internships from across the country and internationally. Each week new students will share an inside look at what it means to be an intern. Please contact Betsy Gill, Assistant Director, Internship Services if you have any questions.