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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Spend your summer doing something significant

Published: May 19, 2012
Section: Opinions

As many paths as there are to a Brandeis degree, there are countless more ways to spend a summer away from this place that would still be keeping with what is expected of us.

Some of us keep busy by simply taking another semester: On-campus summer school is the quick and easy out, but it’s unimpeachable—it won’t hurt your prospects. But the vast majority of us, under constant pressure to have the best future resume possible, have to find some worthwhile way to summer with a complex array of options.

The internship is ideal; the 10-letter word is sometimes a magic bullet. Tell it to your parents or any mid-level contact and the conversation will stay positive regardless of how intense it was.

But there any many kinds of internships, and for that rare but important high-level contact, your main faculty adviser or the like, you usually need some meat to the word. Those in the know can see through a thinly-veiled internship story.

Internships at their best involve a long-term involvement with a nationally recognized foundation or industry, where the student performs not only secretarial functions but takes away meaningful field experience from actual practitioners of the craft.

Most internships of course are those where secretarial function would be a generous description. Do what you can though to avoid the worst of them, with strictly menial labor or just plain time killers. If you can at all manage to glean some real knowledge, try to build on the relationships you create there, even if it is outside the normal bounds of the job posting.

Internships today simply do not often pay. They are too highly sought after: Every overachieving, first-tier college student from the upper crust of society will take them for free. But if getting grants for otherwise free work are rare, they also confer a sense of legitimacy to any enterprise. Even the pencil-pushing.

But speaking of income, getting a real job is something more of us should consider. We go to Brandeis and will someday have the accompanying fancy degree, but we are not above bussing tables. A job at home will not only make your parents happy and fill your pockets with honest wages but is an understandable and legitimate way to spend the summer. In fact working the struggling college-student angle, contrary to that upper-crust norm, can be a plus in and of itself. And any job interviewer who looks down their nose for working all summer isn’t offering you a job you should want.

Pay or no pay, ideal internships and waiting tables have very many options in between. And the type of work isn’t just either rewarding real-world understanding or else a meaningless waste of time. The best summers involve a combination of both. In between an internship and minimum-wage work are fellowships, part-time shadowing and even other personal projects. I know someone who is working on a comic book that he means to publish. It’s not a White House internship or a summer program at Oxford, but he is happy about it and could even make some money. And he will have an equally good personal story answer at future interviews.

The possibilities for this answer are embarrassingly many for only a fourth of the year on which you don’t even get graded. Friends of mine have spent the summer learning Cantonese in rural China or studying sea turtles in Greece—and those are simply the memorable international tales. Brandeis students have worked at community health care clinics in their hometowns or even spent the summer far from any familiar home—either their parents’ house or Brandeis—in a part of this country they hadn’t seen before.

I advise this sort of tack. If you can’t land the dream pick, the second-best option is something completely unconventional. Go somewhere Other, which is increasingly applied to rural places in the United States as opposed to European capitals. I’m talking American places where people have not often even heard of Brandeis. Not only do the Deep South or the far Northwest need more Brandeis publicity, but opportunities there get the same nationwide financial aid or grants but a Brandeis student story from there would be unique.

This is the part where I reveal my brilliant plants for summer, but no, I’m not working to preserve the endangered roadrunner 12 miles outside of Santa Fe. I wish I were. But I do need money, and I do have a mixed agenda for the summer, and I’m not at all worried about the space on my resume. And after spending my whole life moving, I’ve spent too much time in the American Other to worry about the interview question.

I’m working two good jobs on campus this summer and doing some brief shadowing in my home town, and probably a minimum-wage job there too—likely bussing tables—just to make things less financially worrisome. I’m preparing a Fulbright application too (getting a jump on next summer!) with who knows how many drafts.

Oh, and I’m also studying for the LSAT, which involves a paid-service test helper and then endless hours of practice tests on my own. This is also known as beating my head against my desk, which otherwise is the only really non-legitimate way to fill your summer. Do whatever you can sell best both on paper and in the interviews. We only have so many summers before they become just like the rest of the year, working Monday through Friday!