Alone, But Not Lonely

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This final blog in the 2014 series is by Divanna Cedeno, WH ’15

It is safe to say that this past summer was the most enlightening summer of my twenty-one years of life. My experiences cemented my passion for Social Entrepreneurship, as well as worldwide travel; and I was luck enough to have Career Services support my work all the way up in the Andes Mountains.

Picture: Looking out onto Lake Titicaca, from La Isla Del Sol in Copacabana, Bolivia

I can spend hours talking about the intricacies of Huancayo, Peru. About how difficult it was to create a financial literacy curriculum that challenged my adult students in a way that led them to think about business in a way other than just for surviving. About the difficulties of trying to teach people who can be your parents/grandparents. About learning how hard it was to say “No” to people that needed your help, because you understood that you would be giving a man a fish, instead of teaching him to fish. About the constant mission clashes that one faces, when managing/operating a non-profit. About how humbled I was when I faced the same living conditions as other Peruvians. About the negative implications of colonialism, how the Spanish conquest in Peru wiped out the beautifully rich Incan culture. About altitude sickness, and how it makes even the most fit person, have difficulty breathing. About

However, as I was challenging my education through the many trials of Microfinance work, I was also challenging my persona and my “Global Citizenship” status. I took the opportunity to not only work in Peru, but also travel (on a very tight personal budget) all throughout South America once my summer internship was over. I learned many things along the way, most of which my words will not be able to ever fully encapsulate, but for those of you wondering if traveling is the way to go, here’s a list of advice from a girl who decided to backpack Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, after her already very fulfilling summer internship in the social financial center:

  1. Travel alone. (This is my most important one, hence the title. You will learn so much about yourself, the world, and other people if you give yourself the opportunity to make your own decisions in a far away land, also, you will be forced to meet new people if you go alone)
  1. You will meet the most interesting people if you do so. (People from ALL OVER THE WORLD will be your friends, will go out with you, will give you the best networks)
  1. Go on free walking tours. (I travelled on about $5 a day, these walking tours are the best bang for your buck and you learn everything that there is to know about a given place, as they’re usually hosted by university students)
  1. Sleep in hostels. (This goes along with meeting new people, but you will probably share a room with some of the coolest people from all over the world; billionaires, people who have been travelling over 5 years, visionaries, you name it. Your perspective on so many things will start to change for the better. And you get free history lessons with each geographically different person)
  1. Eat things that you may consider strange. (Food is, if I may opinion-ate, the most important part of a given culture, you will understand a place exponentially more if you eat what they eat)
  1. Everyone travels differently. (Some people are more adventurous, others like architecture, food might be big for someone else, thus, if you have your personal quota, travel by yourself and I promise you will find someone that has similar interests)
  1. Let go of daily distractions. (Whether it be Facebook, Instagram, or anything else that you used to do that is preventing 100% immersion, let go of it, you’ll thank yourself later)
  1. Learn the language, or at least the basics. (While I am a native Spanish speaker, I still recommend for anyone to learn how to be able to get around, and yes, this sounds elementary, but I know people that never even tried and they spent months in a certain place)

While this is also not an exhaustive list of advice, it is one that hopefully makes you start thinking about what it means to travel humbly, and ultimately, how uplifting that experience can be.

Speak in an interview without saying a word

By Jamie Grant, C ’98, GEd ‘99

I chose psychology as my undergraduate major because so much around the subject fascinated me – study what you love, right?!  One particularly interesting area of the field that can have impact on you – or, at least, your interviews – is the psychology of color.  What do your apparel choices say about you – before you ever begin speaking about your interests, skills and accomplishments?

Fast Company magazine recently published an article by Stephanie Vozza, entitled “Why You Should Never Wear Orange to An Interview” as part of their category “How to be a Success at Everything” (love it!).  Understanding the power of color and its implication on how others perceive you may not necessarily make up for a lack of experience or qualifications, Vozza writes, but can certainly help you make the most of your first impression.

As examples:

  • Black conveys leadership.
  • Red is a color of power.
  • Blue gives the impression the person is a team player.
  • Gray reads as logical and analytical.
  • White gives a feeling of being organized.
  • Green, yellow, orange and purple are associated with creativity.

The article goes on to echo an idea we share in Career Services every day – know your industry. Navy can be a wonderful choice for a suit if you are applying to a conservative field – but in a creative environment, navy may just be too conservative and send the wrong message.  Brown can imply passivity and staidness, Vozza writes – NOT a good thing to project when you’re applying for a role in a fast-paced environment that may require adaptability, flexibility and leadership skills.  Gray may be an excellent fit all around, and certainly you have the option of accent colors like purple, blue, or green – shirts and/or ties for gentlemen, blouses, scarves, or other accessories for women – chosen in hues suited to the industry for which you are being considered and the image you hope to project.

And, as the title of the article says, avoid orange – the hiring managers interviewed as part of the base of this article said it is the color most likely to lead them to think the candidate was “unprofessional.”  Besides, what Quaker wants to wear Princeton’s colors, anyway!!?



Take Home Lessons from Deutschland

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This blog is by Blake Mergler, CAS ’16

Vielen Dank (Thank you) to Career Services for supporting my summer as an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) Participant at the RWTH Aachen, one of the most renowned universities in Germany. While I still do not speak German very well, I did grow so much from this opportunity to do neuroscience research, study introductory German, and live in a foreign atmosphere. As a Penn student on the pre-medical school track, I really wanted to study abroad this past summer, and when I was selected for this program, I knew it was the ideal place for me. Here are a few of my take-home lessons about my summer:

1. Research abroad sometimes (or mostly) involves doing the unexpected.
Upon acceptance to the program, I was placed in a research assistant position in Professor Gerhard Grunder’s Lab on a project entitled “Neural and visual processing of complex social situations and the influence of oxytocin as a potential moderator: A combined fMRI/ eye-tracking study.” However, I did not meet Dr. Grunder the entire time. FYI: This is typical in Germany, as professors are not very accessible to students!

More significantly, my grad student supervisor informed me on my first day that the eye-tracking equipment had not arrived/ probably would not arrive during the entire ten weeks I was there, and that they are not up to the oxytocin phase of the research yet. So, my project quickly shifted, and in the end was entitled “Gender Differences in Emotional Processing during a Go/NoGo Task”—clearly very different than what I had in mind.

Additionally, before arriving, in my task description, I was told that I would have a lot of patient/subject interaction, which is something I was looking forward to as a future doctor. However, the subjects that came in mostly spoke German, so there was clearly a language barrier with that. Most days, I was behind a computer screen mainly analyzing the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and behavioral data, and entering questionnaire data that was collected from German young adults, with whom I could not communicate. I was able to watch while fMRIs were being conducted, pre-process and analyze fMRI imaging using SPM, statistically analyze my results through SPSS, and conduct many literature reviews for others in my research group. Needless to say, while there were many expectations not fulfilled in the research aspect of my program, I still had an enormously enriching experience doing the unexpected.

2. Collaboration is powerful and important in research.
Even though my program was part of RWTH UROP with students from many universities in the US and Canada, there were four other Penn students assisting in my research group entitled the International Research Training Group (IRTG) in the Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics. This is because Penn has an amazing collaboration with RWTH Aachen, which became so inspiring when everyone made their presentations at the end of the program to the larger research group. I realized that no matter what everyone did this summer, it is just so wonderful that Penn students can collaborate with amazing German minds and that German grad students can spend time in our labs. I was excited to find out that upon saying goodbye to my grad student supervisor, it was not really goodbye because she will be in Philadelphia next fall as part of her program. This aspect of my summer has allowed me to return to Penn this Fall feeling lucky to attend such a place where research is not only conducted by our dedicated professors but where partnerships are made to advance our knowledge and embrace the unknowns.

3. There are many cultural norms I take for granted in the United States.
Being in Germany was such an amazing experience overall, but the cultural differences addressed in a workshop at the beginning of the program mostly held true. Germans are not as into small talk as Americans are, and coming from New York, I am so used to that! Of course, this was not universal, and I had amazing conversations with some Germans (who were mostly English speaking), but it was noticeable for me that people made small chat with each other a lot less than they do in New York and in Philadelphia. In a similar way, Germans do not talk about their home life at work so much; it is not common to ask what someone did the previous weekend or what they were going to do after work. In this way, there is a larger divide between one’s home and work life.

Another major norm that was violated which I hinted at earlier is that the whole structure of professorship in research labs is different. In my lab at Penn, I work closely with everyone (the research assistants, lab coordinator, grad students, and principal investigator), while in Germany there is a more distinct hierarchy, and as a research assistant, I never even met the professor I was supposedly working for. And, this was not unique—we were told to expect this within the first weeks of the program.

Thus, in addition to the lack of big salads and no tap water offered at any restaurant, these larger cultural differences were very interestingly noted.

Thank you again Career Services for giving me the ability to travel to Germany and for allowing me to learn not only about research and German but also immeasurable things about myself.

Asking For Something to Do

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This blog is by Derick Olson, CAS ’15

This summer, I had the opportunity to work at Capvision, a primary research firm, specializing in industry-specific market research and consultation.

If you study a foreign language, an internship at a company that speaks it is phenomenal. Just make sure that your level is appropriate for the position. For example, in my case, my Chinese would not have been good enough for a position that dealt with clients, but it was fine for casual work in the office.

Capvision is Chinese-owned, managed, and staffed. There was one other westerner in the office. For a time, I spoke a broken, stifled Chinese, and struggled to bring my classroom studies into everyday situations.

But the situation puts everything in your favor. To start, every conversation, meal, and activity is a chance to practice. Co-workers, waiters, and people on the street were all thrilled that I was trying to speak the language in the first place, and were patient and helpful. At the same time, everyone wanted to practice English, so the language barrier was a great way to make friends with locals.

At first, there wasn’t much to do there, I was essentially researching tech stories and writing English articles that would then be translated into Chinese. Not exactly an efficient process. I did find the translation work interesting. There would be idioms in Chinese that I’d find directly translated into English, usually with a comical result. Editing Chinese-to-English translations revealed the choice between accuracy and clarity that every translator must deal with. All this aside, in a couple days I realized that translating memos across departments was not exactly enthralling.

So I met with my, let’s call her Debbie. She had sensed as much, and came up with a longer-term product development project for my to work on. It seemed interesting, but I could tell that it would consist mostly of Internet research and power points. The product was a platform for the expert-consultants, the sources of information that Capvision kept in contact with for client requests for industry info.

I wanted to make something, to learn something more than the newest company trends in a faraway country. I spoke to Debbie and with others, and picked up that there were several programming-related projects in the air. I asked around to find out what languages and frameworks the company used. For the rest of the week, and part of the following, I spent the free moments of the day researching JavaScript best practices and web frameworks. I raced through translations and went through tutorials.

One morning, I found myself in the elevator with one of the heads of the company. We’d spoken once, during my initial “Hello! I’m the new intern!”—spree that first week. I described my situation to him, and we chatted a bit about my interests. When we got to our floor, he turned to me.

“Just go in there and be like, ‘Hey, I’m…I’m a dude.’” he said, and walked away

After a couple evenings of brainstorming, self-reflection, and self-doubt, I took the advice and asked for a meeting.

And there we were. I poured out my thoughts and ideas about whatever topics I had, fully disclosing my experiences or lack thereof, and emphasized my ability to learn. In my case, it was a description of the small handful of programming classes that I had taken, as well as my interest in certain aspects of the consultant news platform I new they had just released.

They’d been planning to develop an iOS version of their platform for a while, but it wasn’t easy to find competent iOS engineers in Shanghai. So there I was, totally inexperienced and under-qualified, given the responsibility for the planning, design, and implementation of a proprietary consultant application.

There will always more work to do. As an intern, I had already discovered the dangers of being too helpful (read: everyone in the office gives you busywork). It was easy to get caught up filling up the gaps for everyone around me. The truth is, that people are always happy to give you something to do.

But the real experience came when I used this truth for myself, by carving out my own project, and showing enthusiasm to push it forward. Interns are in a special position, where the company doesn’t have much at stake taking a chance and letting you define your own goals. A little structure can go a long way.

So, I continued to work through tutorials, small hacks on existing projects, and eventually, the design and implementation for my own app, database, and user-experience. I reached a state of flow almost daily, and often didn’t want to leave after the 9 hours were up.

At the same time, I had a real role to fill. My coworkers treated me like another employee, and we talked about office politics, funny stories, and the best places for lunch. It came from ownership of something and running with it. It led to an incredible experience that far exceeded my expectations for the internship. In the process, I used the limited things I knew to learn more, to figure things out on the job, and felt completely engaged in my work. It all started with a small step, am almost trivial amount of initiative, in asking for something to do.

Pre-Health: Recommended Reading; Reading Recommended

If you are wondering what it feels like to train and practice as a physician, Dr. Danielle Ofri‘s What Doctors Feel (2014) offers a welcome study break from premedical work.  Dr. Ofri, who practices at Bellevue Hospital in NYC, is co-founder and editor-in-chief of the Bellevue Literary Revue and hold MD and PhD degrees from NYU.  Her website is full of “medical media” addressing some of the most poignant and important issues in medicine. DO-color-headshot22 Reading is a great way to remain connected with your emotional and reflective side when problem sets and exams are pressing upon you.

A starred review from Booklist: Tucked inside a white lab coat or scrub suit is a welter of human emotions that can play a large role in a doctor’s decision-making process. Ofri, an internist at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, explores the emotional core of doctoring. Suturing together her own experiences, the plights of memorable patients, and interviews with other physicians, sheWhatDoctorsFeel examines the diverse feelings—anger, grief, shame, disillusionment, gratitude, humility, joy—that can fluster or elevate physicians. “Fear is a primal emotion in medicine,” she writes, and doctors worry about making a mistake or even killing a patient. Sadness is an occupational hazard, and “A thread of sorrow weaves through the daily life of medicine.” Then there’s empathy. Is it innate, acquired, or both, and why do third-year medical students lose it? Ofri exposes her emotional side as she recounts the story of a longtime patient, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala who finally receives a heart transplant but dies shortly after the procedure. Ofri admits, “Doctors who are angry, nervous, jealous, burned out, terrified, or ashamed can usually still treat bronchitis or ankle sprains competently.” Yet her insightful and invigorating book makes the case that it’s better for patients if a physician’s emotional compass-needle points in a positive direction. –Tony Miksanek