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 Caitlyn Ibrahim, CAS ’16
The summer after my freshman year I had an internship with Penn’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program conducting research with a focus on the Middle East. I was first introduced to research organizations through this internship and learned a significant amount about the purpose, significance, and concerns of these organizations from reading literature on the topic and looking at trends in data collected from surveys. As I began to consider what I wanted to do during the summer before my Junior year, I realized that gaining experience outside of an academic setting was crucial. I knew that a majority of international relations majors either headed straight for D.C. or went abroad because of the higher concentration of IR-related internship opportunities. I also knew that I wanted to do something different. While researching think tank organizations I realized that all the big names were in D.C.—huge research organizations with hundreds of staff members. I wanted to go somewhere where I would be able to interact with all the different departments within the organization, somewhere where my contribution (no matter how small) would be considered important, somewhere were I could learn new skills by forming a close relationship with the staff, and have experts help me improve old skills. I realized the perfect organization for my personal needs and interests was the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
A major aspect of my internship that deserves some attention in this post is its fantastic location in downtown Chicago. I highly recommend that those looking for internships consider applying in Chicago. The city has a very young professional vibe that is helpful for expanding networks and getting a feel for what life will be like after college. That being said, it’s also really fun because the city itself hosts dozens of festivals and concerts all summer long so it is really easy to enjoy your stay, have fun, and meet new people while simultaneously benefiting from a productive work environment during the week. My experience at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs really reflects the nature of the city and all the aspects I was looking for in an internship. The Council was small enough that I could really get to know the role of each staff member and become familiar with how all the departments fit together. In addition to this advantage, the Council is seen as one of the most influential organizations of its kind. I was therefore able to come in contact with and meet many leaders in my field of study, including former ambassadors, research fellows, and embassy workers, as well as some of the most important business men in the Midwest. The staff members at the Council are all really focused on making their interns feel welcome, helping them learn, and keeping them busy doing important work. I really appreciated the fact that each department hosted a round table discussion with the interns so that every intern was given the chance to hear about the background of people working within those departments and learn about all the different branches that help a research organization operate smoothly.
From my experience at the Council, I can suggest that every undergrad pursue at least one internship in which they work in a professional office environment. A lot of students take many simple things for granted that are better learned as an intern than as a college graduate working their first job; things like how to dress appropriately, how to perform administrative tasks, write and speak appropriately, etc. Luckily, my mentor Melanie Hannon (assistant to the Council’s president Ambassador Ivo Daalder) helped me to learn these things quickly in my first weeks at the Council so that I could spend the rest of the time working on gaining more field-specific skills and conducting some interesting research. During the summer, I learned how to accomplish the tasks that went into planning think tank events like briefings, lectures, round table discussions, and meetings. I also had the opportunity to work on updating one of the Council’s oldest and most successful studies The 2014 Biennial American Survey, a public opinion survey focusing on the attitudes of Americans towards the U.S. government and its policies as well as other related topics. I was even able to work closely with the Council’s senior follow on the Middle East, hearing about his career path and experiences and conducting background research for his articles. Reflecting back on this summer, I am really glad that I reached out to Penn Career Services because without their help, I would not have been able to have such an enriching experience. Working an unpaid internship at the Chicago Council helped me narrow my interests, work in a new and engaging environment, meet interesting people, and learn new skills—all things that would not have been possible if I had chosen to work a part-time summer job, take classes on campus, or even pursue another internship locally.