Preparing for graduation – the ultimate internship?

May 5, 2024 at 4:32 PM
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Preparing for graduation – the ultimate internship

By Rachel Orenstein UA’24 and Jim Stellar

This is our last blog while you are an undergraduate. It comes after blog #1, #2, and #3, which I highlight here to bring forward our history. In this blog, we are focusing on your “experiential” reactions to the coming graduation. So many students (seniors) are going through this now.

So, to start, can you give us a brief discussion about what you are feeling as your undergraduate education comes to a close?

Apprehension might be the most accurate term. I am stuck still between excitement and panic. One month, and then sixteen years of schooling ends. This is terrifying for a girl who has, for her entire life, prioritized her education above all else. But there is something freeing about it, too. In my mind I stand alone before a grand, empty stage, diploma in hand. It’s quiet. I will soon cross the podium, but when I reach the other side where do I go? I don’t know. I am not sure even fate knows what to do with me yet, if there is such a thing. It’s all terribly dramatic.

Great metaphor of the empty stage. Before we talk about your “crossing it,” let’s go back into the notion of apprehension that so many of us feel and even I remember from my time graduating long ago. Can you unpack that a bit for us? You point out you have been in school for a long time and it is highly structured with targets, such as how to become a sophomore after you get started as a freshman. Is that what creates the apprehension that we all feel or is there more to it?

Thanks. I think the apprehension we feel is a classic fear of the unknown. You spend a lifetime with predesignated structures almost every day, each next step part of a well-worn path laid out for you, and then it just ends. Everything relies on you. Just you. It is thrilling to forge your own path, but also frightening to own the consequences of your own decisions.

In previous blogs, we have written about the importance of experiential education (blog #1, above). Ownership over our choices is a huge part of it. Classrooms are simulations to test decision-making, the consequences represented by grades. Internships, apprenticeships, field work – these are where we learn the self-reliance of a career. Real-world results are tricky to grow accustomed to, but experience-based learning makes this transition out of college so much easier.

You make good points. To build on your natural feeling of apprehension about this transition, the importance of experiential education can be seen in reducing that anxiety. This is true for all things cognitive/planning that come before implementation of those plans. As I often say, when you give me a very nice recipe for your famous blueberry pie, I receive it cognitively.  But we all know that after I make it ten times, it will be better than after I make it once, even if I follow the directions flawlessly. The mastery and security in that practice is also like learning to ride a bicycle, where it is critical that one gets a feel for it. Of course, one can never know whether an internship is quite the same as actually having the job. Even with lots of relevant experiences there is still a transition to work, still some things that are unknown.

Now I want blueberry pie.

You are right, of course. I have pretty much mastered how to “do school” after so many years. And I can even anticipate how it feels to be an intern now. Its tentative newness is familiar to me. This is partially due to repetition – pattern recognition through different experiences is an evolved survival instinct. However, it is also (mostly) due to reflection.

Good decisions are made using cognitive-emotional integration (in other words, the heart and the head together). Reflecting on an experience grasps a deeper understanding of it through emotional evaluation. Emotion is often overlooked as an experiential aspect, but it reveals our motivations. For example, my own imposter syndrome within an experience (as discussed in blog #3, above) revealed, upon closer inspection, my deep desire to excel in that position. “I don’t belong here” became “I really want to belong here.”

These blogs have been a great opportunity for me, personally, to reflect on my experiential education. I am grateful. They forced me to confront how I felt in different positions and what I thought about different industries. But reflection takes many forms and is something I recommend to all. Purposeful, timely evaluations of an experience will teach you even about your own character. A college graduate should, ideally, have a pretty strong sense of self. So even though I do not know where I am going, I do know who I am. That is invaluable. It is also something that cannot ever be taught.

A Gut Decision
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