Summer Internship Experiences (written by Megan Benetsky & Valerie Chepp)

– by Megan Benetsky (a second year PhD student)

Last summer I was fortunate enough to intern at the U.S. Census Bureau. As a quantitative researcher, I need public use data provided by the Census Bureau for my papers. The opportunity to see the construction of surveys, to attend budget meetings, learn how data is edited, etc. has not only made me appreciate all of the work that goes into making these data public, but has also allowed me to think about the data in a new way. Getting to know coworkers in various branches has made me more familiar with several datasets and their collection techniques, variables, and also the overall possibilities and limitations of these surveys. This has already benefited my papers for seminars and has given me ideas for future research.

I worked on the reengineered Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). My main job was to test a new computer-adaptive interviewing instrument and also able to help my coworkers think of research ideas using the SIPP. I had great support from my branch chief who encouraged me to work on a publishable paper using the SIPP during my graduate career and beyond.

My biggest piece of advice to those of you thinking about an internship at the Census would be to get your applications in as soon as possible. The Census seems to be very welcoming towards graduate students from Maryland, so take advantage of this! Be sure to put your areas of specialty in your application, as my offers came from branches that clearly aligned with my interests. It will make your summer more enjoyable to be working on something you find appealing and may even inspire future research projects.

Whether you do qualitative or quantitative research, I’d recommend applying for a Census internship. It’s a great experience with great pay, and you’re sure to see a familiar sociology face there!

– by Valerie Chepp (a third year PhD student)

I didn’t come up with the clever expression that serves as the title to this article, but the phrase perfectly captures my experience of landing an internship last summer, and it functions as a guiding light for any advice I may offer my fellow grad students in search of their own summer internship.

At face value, the summer internship position I was offered last April at the National Center for Health Statistics was pure luck. It was about this time last year, I was sitting in the Socy computer lab – no one else was there – trying to set up interviews with college students for a class project. At the time, I was taking a qualitative methods course that focused almost exclusively on in-depth interviewing. As I’m working, in walks Brian Ward, fellow graduate student, friendly colleague, but someone with whom I had had very few one-on-one conversations. Brian and I get to talking, he tells me about his dissertation work, I tell him about my interviewing class, he tells me that NCHS is looking for researchers with interviewing experience. Another friendly Socy grad, Heather Ridolfo, works at NCHS. Would he like for me to have her pass along my information to her supervisor? Now, remember, it’s mid-February and I’m already beginning to feel the weight of the semester’s work bearing down on my shoulders: an interviewing project, three courses, my second year paper, my research assistantship…  at that moment, a summer job didn’t seem very urgent. But, Brian is so nice that I think I said “yes” because, well, I don’t know why… I think I agreed because he’s just so nice!

I continue to be utterly un-proactive. *Luckily* Heather follows up and asks about my interest. I passively go through the motions, yes I’m interested, who do I contact, how many hours would it be, etc. So far, it probably sounds like sheer luck that I ever scored this job, right? Wrong. I contact the NCHS supervisor. *Luckily* I’m already in a position to talk up my research experience, as I’ve had several qualitative methods courses and I’m in the process of conducing interviews with college students. *Luckily* my resume is already good to go… I keep it updated on a regular basis. I make time to meet with the supervisor, I come prepared to discuss my past work experience and its relevancy for NCHS. At the interview, I was floored. I loved this place! I can’t believe I was so lackluster about it! I follow up, prepared to express my interest and reiterate why I’m a good fit for the position. Within months, I was *luckily* working at NCHS.

Obviously, some luck was involved in getting my summer internship. But I was also well-prepared to capitalize on my luck. Below are a few lessons I learned from this experience about how luck favors the prepared:

#1) Have your resume updated. I didn’t have take time during the middle of my busy semester to polish up my resume… that helped make the whole process very smooth and easy.
#2) Get comfortable talking about your skills and past experience. By this time, we’re all really qualified people that have completed many methods courses, research projects, numerous reports and original manuscripts, and various professional and leadership positions. Become familiar with all your qualifications and be prepared to talk about these with ease.
#3) Put the word out you’re looking.
#4) In order to accomplish #3, you absolutely must follow lesson #4: talk to people! Just talk to them. Even if it’s someone you don’t know well, strike up a conversation. Brian and I didn’t know each other very well – we were just making small talk in the computer lab, sharing info about our work. From that simple conversation I learned about this great internship.
#5) Follow ALL leads, even if you think something is less than ideal or you think you have secured an alternative position. I almost didn’t pursue the internship at NCHS because I thought I would be spending the summer tutoring kids in my neighborhood. I ultimately went with the NCHS position and, good thing. One month after accepting the position, I learn the tutoring center was shutting its doors. Had I not pursued the opportunity at NCHS, I would have been without a summer job.

Ok, that’s all I got.  Good *luck*!


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