Finding a Summer Research Positon

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 Joseph Cesare, CAS ’17

This past summer, I was offered the opportunity to stay in Philadelphia and continue research at the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, a part of the Department of Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine. I had been previously assigned to a project evaluating the development of glutamatergic neural circuitry and NMDA function particularly at the post-synaptic density of dysbindin knockout mice, which has implications to the pathogenesis of Schizophrenia in humans. I continued this project working closely with post-graduates and the primary investigators in my lab, which served as an invaluable learning experience.

During the summer, I honed my skills at several research methods such as the dissection of brain samples, kinase assays, immunoprecipitation, and western blotting. The opportunities our lab offered during lab meetings and summer lectures were another great way to completely immerse myself into the medical field. Our lab conducted weekly meetings to discuss our work and other works of research that have made a recent impact on the field of psychiatric medicine. During these meetings, I regularly presented the findings of our project to our whole lab and discussed ways to improve our methods and reevaluate the direction of our research. Other times, I was given the opportunity to present the findings of other scientists’ work. I found this intellectually challenging, but it was very rewarding to contribute to the field of medicine and well worth the effort put into the project. I now feel more prepared to move forward with a future career in medicine and research, and I am continuing with this project this semester with the hope to publish the work I have done soon.

Reflecting on my experience, I remember not knowing where to start when it came to finding a research position. I was a freshman coming from rural Kentucky without any research experience, and I felt overwhelmed by the multitude of opportunities Penn offered. I read about CURF, Uscholars, and many of the amazing programs that Penn has to offer and asked other students already involved in research for advice. However, I didn’t feel like I was getting a clear picture of where to begin, and I realized that I wasn’t the only one who felt the same way. For that reason, I hope to save you some time and trouble by giving the best holistic piece of advice from someone who recently went through the process.

There are so many different ways to getting a research position at Penn, but here are some concrete examples of where you might begin and how you might go about getting the position you want.

  • Get to know your professors in your classes, read their research, and if you find it interesting, send them an email or talk to them after class or during office hours. Let them know you are authentically interested in their research, tell them why, and ask if you could volunteer in their lab.
  • The Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships office and website is here to help undergraduates get involved with research. Their website has everything from research grants to help fund your project to links to the actual applications for programs. One program, Penn Undergraduate Research Mentoring Program (PURM), is designed for students who do not have any previous research experience.
  • Search different department’s websites such as CURF, the medical school, Wharton, the nursing school, the chemistry department, etc., and read about the research of Penn faculty posted on these websites. Narrow down projects that are interesting, read some of the papers that they have published, and send the primary investigator an email. Since this often means sending an email to a complete stranger, include a cover letter introducing yourself, explain why you are interested in research (include any personal details), ask if they have any positions open, give them your availability during the week, and include your resume.
  • If you qualify for work-study, the job listings website is an invaluable resource. Go to the listings and narrow your job search to only “research” or “laboratory assistant.” This search will show a list of job openings in a variety of departments at Penn where the primary investigators are actively searching for undergraduates. Each job description has a list of requirements you will need to meet in order to fill the position so pay attention to this.
  • If you haven’t already, subscribe to the email distribution lists from Career Services where many opportunities are posted.

Once you get your foot into the door, there may be several other things you must do in order to get a research position. This might include sending your resume, going through a series of interviews, finding grants, and so on. In trying to find my research position, I was required to do all of the above, and honestly, seeking help from Career Services helped me immensely. Please, do not be afraid to ask for help because the feedback you can receive on these details will make a difference.

I hope this helps!

On Campus Recruiting Starts Tomorrow!

By Barbara Hewitt

Starting tomorrow the on-campus interviewing suite will be bustling with activity as the 2014 full-time interviewing process gets underway. Penn is fortunate to have a very large interviewing suite with 48 rooms (and we support interview schedules at the Inn at Penn for overflow space!) so on any given day we can schedule upwards of 700 interviews! It’s an exciting time of year, but can (understandably) result in some anxiety as students start the interviewing process.

For those of you interviewing, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the employers have already selected you as someone who has the basic qualifications they seek…They’ve reviewed your resume and chosen you for an interview out of dozens if not hundreds of applicants from Penn.  This should give you some confidence that they are serious about considering you for their opportunities. Your job now is to wow them in the interview and show that you can indeed do the job.

We have several resources to help you prepare for your upcoming interviews.

Career Services Interviewing Guide:  This is a quick-start guide to get you prepped for interviews, particularly if you don’t have a lot of time. It’s a great place to start!

InterviewStream: This is the leading practice interview system that allows job seekers the opportunity to see and hear themselves online.  Using a webcam, individuals can simulate job interviews by responding to pre-recorded interview questions and practice both their verbal and non-verbal communication skills.  InterviewStream allows you to customize your own interview by choosing from thousands of questions in a wide variety of industries and job functions. Afterwards, all interviews are immediately accessible online for self-review, or can be sent to career counselors, mentors, or others from whom you would like feedback.  Penn  students can create an InterviewStream account here.

Vault and WetFeet Guides:  Career Services subscribes to two excellent career resources: Vault and WetFeet Guides.  In addition to loads of good information about various industries to help you develop a deeper understanding of them before you interview, check out these specific interviewing guides. (You can access both resources from the online subscriptions link on the Career Services library page.)

Vault Guides





Vault Guide to Resumes, Cover Letters and Interviews

Vault Gide to the Case Interview

Vault Guide to Finance Interviews

Vault Guide to Private Equity and Hedge Fund Interviews

Vault Guide to Advanced Finance and Quantitative Interviews

Wet Feet Guides




Ace Your Interview

Ace Your Interview: Consulting

Ace Your Case: Consulting Interviews

Ace Your Case: Business Operations Questions

Ace Your Case: Mastering the Case Interview

Ace Your Case: Market-sizing Questions

Ace Your Interview: Accounting

Ace Your Interview: Information Technology

Ace Your Interview: Brand Management

Beat the Street: Investment Banking Interviews

Beat the Street: I-Banking Interview Practice Guide

Interning Beyond the Day-to-Day

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 Harry Cooperman, CAS ’16

Standing in a small room with seven people but only two chairs, I watched as the prosecutor’s eyes digested the sympathetic expression on the face of the boyish-looking-man who was just 22 years old.

The man had pled guilty to minor drug-related offenses months before. He was on probation now, his behavior supervised by a federal probation officer. The purpose for the meeting was for the man to explain why he had violated the terms of his probation by smoking marijuana.

“You can’t keep doing this,” the prosecutor sternly told the defendant. “You can’t keep screwing up.”

The 22-year-old man was ready with excuses as he began to defend himself. He knew it was a mistake. He said he would stop. He said he was expecting a child. He realized that he couldn’t continue to screw up — he needed to be there for his kid.

“I’ll do anything,” the man pleaded.

In this case, the man’s interests and the interests of justice were aligned. The prosecutor was on his side. She thought there was good in him, and believed that he could reform. She wanted to keep him out of jail for now.

Moments later, when the prosecutor appeared before a judge to discuss punishment for this man, she took his side in open court. She asked that he not be put in the ‘big house’ for his small screw up. In exercising her prosecutorial discretion, she asked only that the conditions of his probation be increased — that his movements be restricted and monitored by the federal probation office — because she believed in him and his ability to reform.

The judge ultimately listened to her arguments and opted not to put him behind bars. But after the court proceedings, the prosecutor reminded the baby-faced man that he couldn’t screw up anymore. This was the last straw. The next time, he would go to jail.


I realize this (the interaction above) is just part of the prosecutor’s job. Working for justice means more than just putting criminals on trial — it means ensuring that the public interest be served not only in convictions, but (where appropriate) for the benefit of the defendants as well. I had never before witnessed a prosecutor use their discretion like this. It was something that I knew that I would remember, but at the time I didn’t realize why.

Continue reading “Interning Beyond the Day-to-Day”

Back to Beijing

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 Suzanne Mahoney, Penn Design

mahoney2This summer I had the amazing opportunity to intern with the internationally acclaimed landscape architecture firm, Turenscape, in Beijing China. Turenscape meaning Dirt (Tu) + Man (Ren) was founded in 1997 by Dr. Kongjian Yu, who received his Ph.D. in Design from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Dr. Yu is a legend in the Chinese professional design world and I really enjoyed learning from him and his team working in such a fast pace environment.

I was eager to apply to Turenscape’s intern program after seeing the office first hand during a class trip to Beijing in March 2014. My City Planning design studio led by Professor Stefan Al traveled to Beijing to exchange ideas on Affordable Housing with city planning officials and design professionals of China. I was thrilled to be invited back for the entire summer.

While with Turenscape, I was included in two international design competitions and a large residential development design in Beijing. A majority of my time was spent working with a small team developing a framework plan for Sokolniki Park in Moscow, Russia. This design competition included only ten design teams selected from around the world to propose a cohesive scheme for the large urban park. As an intern, my job was to generate as many ideas and concepts for the park so senior designers could react and respond, ultimately making the final design decisions. This was a great opportunity for me to have fun and explore new ideas, while getting useful feedback from experienced designers including Dr. Yu.

This experience was challenging though to say the least. Between communication barriers, culture shock, bad air quality, and the longest most crowded bus rides of my life, I certainly missed life in America, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time exploring China. During my summer I was able to visit Tianjin, Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou. Each city revealed a new perspective on life in China.

mahoney3My favorite experience was a day trip to The Great Wall of China. On my previous trip to China my classmates and I visited one section of the Great Wall called Bādálǐng. This section is completely renovated and packed full of tourists most days. While there, I was even approached to take pictures with some of the Chinese locals. My second experience on the Great Wall was far different. This time around, my colleagues and I visited the “Wild Wall”, a section called Jiànkòu, which is completely untouched. We climbed for hours up and down very dangerous rocky terrain. We had no idea how dangerous our adventure would be. Luckily we made it back to the city safely with some minor scraps, sore muscles, and amazing pictures of some of China’s beautiful landscape.

Reflecting on my summer in Beijing, China, I realize what an amazing time I had meeting people, exploring new places, eating great food, and advancing my career as a designer. I am so grateful for the Career Services grant I received, without which I would never have been able to travel half way around the world.


Meet Fatimah Williams Castro, PhD

Career Services welcomed a new career advisor to our team in August.  Dr. Fatimah Williams Castro joins the graduate student and postdoctoral advising team in a part-time position, and has jumped in to all the new fall semester activities.  We asked Fatimah a few introductory questions, and below is the quick “interview” that resulted — I think from her answers it is easy to see why we were eager to have Fatimah on board.
— Rosanne Lurie, Senior Associate Director, Graduate Students/Postdoctoral Advising

What drew you to work as a career advisor for graduate students?
I believe that graduate students need greater access to career decision making and career planning tools. Most graduate students have made it to graduate school because of their commitment to the subject matter they study. With the time spent mastering bodies of literature, methods and approaches, it is easy for career planning to move to the back burner.

When I was getting my doctorate in Cultural Anthropology, I tried my best to get familiar with the world outside of my department and field of study and even do some applied work. I understand the demands on graduate students’ time and attention to excel in their graduate careers.

As a career advisor, I hope to streamline the career exploration and job search process so more graduate students are aware of the range of career paths available to them.

In what ways has your background prepared you for this work?
I have made two important career moves that give me first-hand experience with career decisions that graduate students and postdocs may be considering. First, I was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship after graduate school. This offer confirmed my place as a scholar and academician.

Later, when I began to explore expanded career options, I decided to try my hand at project management in the nonprofit and consulting fields. I enjoy this type of work as it has allowed me to use my analytic skills along with directly impacting policy and services. This second career area has also facilitated my access into the language and values of the millennial workplace, which I pass on to students and fellows I work with in Career Services.

I value the knowledge and skills that graduate students and postdocs bring to the job market, and believe in their potential to excel in any career path they choose.

What have you enjoyed so far, as you have gotten familiar with Penn?
It’s a joy to work with hardworking and dedicated staff. My colleagues in Career Services really enjoy the work they do to support student career transitions.

I was attracted to Penn Career Services for its leadership in the area of graduate and postdoc career development. While many university career services focus their energies and resources on undergraduate students, Penn also does a great job in tailoring career advising to the career needs of adult, advanced degree holders. Our presentations, programs, online resources and one-on-one advising are customized to graduate students and postdocs. My graduate school friends and I would have loved to have access to this level of support while in graduate school.

What are you looking forward to in the coming year?
I have lots of experience working with PhDs in the social sciences and humanities. This year I look forward to working with graduate students in design, engineering and the life sciences, and expanding my knowledge of career trends in these fields.