Monday, March 13, 2017

Challenges of the Internship search from a Master's student perspective

Get that Internship!

One of the most stressful activities for college students is the Internship and Job search. It can get very tiring, stressful, and can really affect the self-confidence of some students.

I graduated from my undergrad college in Bangalore, India in 2015 and came right to Penn, miles away from home, with the hope of getting a Masters degree in Computer and Information Science. I was overwhelmed by all the smart, driven, older and experienced students I met in my Masters program. I was confident in my ability to do well in academics but felt totally unprepared to face job interviews and compete with other accomplished students for internships and jobs. More than a year and a half ago, I had a lot of self-doubt and was afraid that I didn’t have the required technical and algorithmic skills needed to score a Software Engineering position at a Tech company.

I received many Internship rejects during my first semester (Fall 2015) following which I avoided interviewing with large tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Google etc. I wanted to take it slow, prepare well, and analyze why I was failing. I continued applying to other smaller, lesser known companies. After a considerable amount of preparation, I finally got an Internship offer from Audible: An Amazon subsidiary, midway through Spring 2016. The key was to focus on problem solving putting aside my fears and believing that my abilities weren’t any lesser than those of my peers. Securing second place at PennApps was one such factor that contributed to upping my confidence levels. During my interview, I was able to talk about my PennApps experience and put across my passion for using my CS skills to solve everyday and important problems. My manager later told me during the summer that that was what had differentiated me from the rest of the interviewees and me being able to successfully solve the given coding question was important but not necessarily what got me the job.

I learned a lot in the Summer of 2016. I had great mentors and co-interns who helped me continuously challenge myself and deliver more than what was expected of me as an intern. I led a Lean In-tern circle where I was able to meet a lot of other amazing female interns in the NYC area. I soon realized that I wasn’t alone and a lot of others face similar struggles with job interviews. Networking and developing friendships at home with my new roommates, at work, and outside of work helped me learn a lot, gave me more insights about the industry and more importantly, increased my ability to help others.

I had learned so much from these new experiences the past year that when I got back to campus in the Fall, I was so much more prepared for the upcoming interview season. I got a lot more interviews and did much better. I went to the Grace Hopper Conference in October ’16 to present a poster on my research and made newer connections and secured more interviews. I was no longer afraid. During these interviews, I was able to solve harder problems with more ease, had much more to talk about and was able to convince the interviewers that I bring more to the table than what they could see during a 45 minute technical interview.

By the end of Fall 2016, I not only had a return offer from my internship, but offers from 2 of the “Big 4” Tech companies and 2 others. Penn is a great place with great resources. Even in a two year Masters program, there is so much you can do. 

Take advantage of it. 

Having supportive friends and mentors, an amazing research advisor, and my experiences as an RA and TA certainly helped me grow and learn better.

Sneha Rajana-  CIS Master's Student

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Step out of your comfort zone!

This past summer, I worked as a Formulation Intern at AstraZeneca’s manufacturing plant in Newark, Delaware.  In this position, I was able to step out of my comfort zone and experience a different aspect of the pharmaceutical industry that I would not normally be exposed to by remaining within the academic world.  I had the opportunity to be part of a multi-disciplinary team that worked across the manufacturing plant to ensure the accurate and timely production of multiple pharmaceutical tablets produced in that facility.  Although the days were long and the projects were not simple, I found that I really enjoyed working in a manufacturing plant environment that constantly tested me.

By putting myself in a new situation I challenged myself to learn and to become more comfortable in a setting that even today tends to be primarily dominated my men.  That being said, I believe that these are the circumstances that can help to bridge that employment gap.  By more women in the field being exposed to these jobs earlier, it can spark their interest in this area that is not normally discussed.  I also believe that it is important for everyone while still in school, to put themselves in a situation that will push them to learn and to experience something outside of their comfort zone. Overall, this experience helped to shape my career goals and aspirations.  

Caitlin Ward