Never Too Good to be True

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 entry is by Jonathan Sanchez, SEAS ’16

sanchezOctober 17th, 2014 was a regular school day in the midst of my busy junior year schedule. On this day I received was from the Undergraduate Chair of the Mechanical Engineering department. The email was notifying all mechanical engineering students of an opportunity to work with a surgeon from HUP who was looking for an engineering student to help him develop an idea he had for a medical device that would be used to prevent hernia. After reading the project description, I honestly thought that this opportunity was too good to be true. I felt that there would be so many interested students, that it would be a waste of time for me to even try to get involved. After speaking to some of my friends, I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to send the surgeon an email simply explaining my interest in the project, so I did just that. Little did I know that this decision would end up changing the course of the rest of my Penn career and would even change my post-graduation plans.

After reviewing my resume and calling me in for an informal interview, Dr. Fischer called me to discus the project more in depth and to discus how we would be working together in the upcoming weeks. I was completely shocked. I was now fully involved in this amazing opportunity that just a few days ago seemed so far off and nearly impossible.

Over the next few weeks, Dr. Fischer outlined his ideas and explained some of the medical implications behind the proposed device. Although I cannot get into the details of the project because there is intellectual property behind it, the gist of it is to design and prototype a device that automates and standardizes the affixation of prophylactic mesh (a material often used in abdominal surgeries) onto the abdominal wall in order to prevent hernias from forming in patients who are at high risk.

After I spent several months figuring out the mechanics of the device and creating many 3D CAD models, Dr. Fischer decided to offer me a summer internship position to continue working with him on developing the technology and ultimately prototyping the device. During the summer, I made huge leaps in progress, not only in developing this technology, but also in progressing in my career as a future engineer. Dr. Fischer hired a professional engineer to serve as my mentor throughout the summer and through the guidance of my mentor, I was able to master a new, more powerful CAD program and use that program to design and 3D print our first prototype of the device. In addition to this, we also got a chance to run biomechanical tests of the device that I designed on cadaveric porcine fascia. The results of the tests were very positive with only some minor changes needed to be made. It was a truly remarkable experience to see the countless hours of work that I had put into this project finally manifest into tangible results.

The feedback that Dr. Fischer and I got from people in academia and in the medical field was incredible, so much so that Dr. Fischer founded a company, Paradigm Surgical, LLP, in order to give us a platform to continue to develop the device and hopefully mass produce it for use in hospitals across the country. In addition to this, with the help of IP personnel at Penn, we were even able to apply for a provisional patent for the innovative technology that we developed.

Dr. Fischer and I were also accepted and partook in the Penn I-Corps program. Through this 8-week summer accelerator program, we learned how to most effectively facilitate the growth of a start up such as Paradigm Surgical. It was extremely rewarding to be able to sit in on lectures from esteemed Wharton professors and learn about innovation from the business point-of-view.

Overall, this summer was absolutely amazing! I learned more about the engineering field than I ever thought I would in a 3 month span and, even more importantly I found a new passion for medical device design. I have continued to work with Dr. Fischer on our hernia project and on several other innovative medical technologies. I now plan on pursuing a career in this field after graduation.

It is amazing how a simple email could turn into such an extraordinary, life-changing opportunity. Even more importantly than all the technical and business lessons I learned this summer, this experience has taught me a life lesson, and that is that no opportunity is ever too good to be true.

Achieving Career Goals with a Personal Board of Advisors

Many of you have successfully identified either short-term or long-term career goals but can still struggle with how to “get from here to there” with your plans. If you stop to think about it, you can probably identify some of the things that have helped you achieved past goals you have set for yourself.

What helps us achieve a goal or purpose?

  • Clarity of understanding, enthusiasm or motivation for a goal
  • Information and access to resources
  • Ability to take risks and to take action
  • Accountability (holding self to course of action)
  • Ability to learn from experience, gain insight
  • Recognition of accomplishment (keeps us motivated to tackle the next thing on our list)

A mentor or advisor is someone who can add to our abilities in each of the areas above; who can accelerate the process of attaining goals, minimize both the effects and frequency of derailments, and expand our knowledge as we progress from goal to goal, and celebrate achievements.  That being said, most mentors and advisors do not have every skill or expertise you will need to develop to move ahead in your own professional development.  For example, a great researcher isn’t always a great communicator; a great writer may not be a great connector.  This is where the idea behind having a personal board of advisors for your career comes in:  rather than relying on a single advisor, you are more likely to succeed if you reach out to more people, and have their complementary skills and strengths serve your varying needs and goals.   This is a very strategic form of networking for professional development.

Does this idea intrigue you?  Here are some guidelines for creating a personal board of advisors for your career:

  • Identify people with strengths or experience you seek
  • Identify people with connections to others, or connections to resources that can help you
  • Identify people you respect but who have differing perspectives than your own
  • Identify people who will help you stay accountable

Think about a consortium of 4-5 people that would together have the expertise to meet your short term, and even some long term goals.  Who do you already know that fits one or more of the above criteria?  Personal advisory boards can be made up of individuals from any part of your life; not just school or work: family, friends, teachers, former supervisors, current advisors, coaches, leaders in certain fields of interest, alumni of your school or program.

For example, one of my current career goals is to develop my strengths related to leading a team. My board of advisors currently looks like this:

  • 2 former supervisors who have a lot of experience in my field, career counseling graduate students (strengths and connections)
  • 1 cousin, who has significant managerial experience in a totally different field, management consulting (differing perspectives)
  • 2 friends from graduate school, who provide psychological support, have seen my career grow over time (more than 15 years!), and serve as “cheerleaders” (keep me accountable, recognize accomplishments)

What do you need to do to make the most of the “wisdom” or strengths of your career advisory board?

  • Be prepared to discuss your goal(s)
  • Develop the ability to discuss both strengths and weakness; self-insight is required for this
  • Be open to feedback; and be willing to do things differently or see things differently
  • Have regular contact, including follow up after each interaction
  • Express gratitude and reciprocity (be engaged, appreciate your advisors’ efforts, and even offer to help others)

For more information on this concept, read some of the many articles online (some great ones are linked below), and share your networking and professional development goals by making an appointment with a Penn Career Services advisor:

Personal Board of Advisors articles:

Become a Career Services Ambassador!


ambassadorAre you looking for an opportunity to get more creatively involved on campus? Read on to find out about a unique opportunity to be a part of the Career Services Ambassador program for the 2015-2016 school year!

This program will consist of a select group of undergraduate volunteers ranging across all schools to partner with our office and serve as the “face” of Career Services within the student community. The role of the Ambassadors will be to raise awareness on campus about the wide array of resources we provide and the events we offer (such as career fairs and workshops)…and to have fun! The successful candidates will need to make a commitment for the 2015-16 academic school year. Ambassadors will gain valuable marketing and advertising experience and may hone their public speaking skills by co-presenting with career advisors on specific topics.

The strongest candidates should be gregarious and motivated team players with stellar communication and writing skills, an excellent sense of humor and a particular interest in at least one of the following areas: marketing, advertising, graphic design, co-presenting and special events planning and assistance (such as working at career fairs). Successful applicants must be willing to commit 1-2 hours/week (on average) throughout the fall 2015 and spring 2016 semesters. Each Ambassador will also be required to write at least one blog post for this Career Services blog, Penn & Beyond. (Please note this is an unpaid opportunity.)

For more information about qualifications, check out PennLink ID# 812395 or contact Anne Marie Gercke at

Justice for Women

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 entry is by Sarah Elnahal, COL ’16

When I accepted the internship with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, I was not sure what I want to do as a career. As a feminist, I knew I wanted to help women in some capacity, and I had been interested in law ever since I joined the mock trial team in high school. After spending three months working in the Juvenile Department and the Sexual Assault and Family Violence Department, I found my calling; I want to help women find justice for the wrongs they have faced.

As an undergraduate intern, my daily activities were pretty clerical. I would print out discovery (a collection of all the evidence in a case, interviews, police reports, and other relevant documents), approve charges, update statistics, and file. Although these tasks seem menial (and I have to admit, at times I did feel bored), they taught me so many important aspects of law. I learned about various charges and their definition, even correcting ADA charging mistakes. I saw the type of information needed to move forward with a case as well as the inner workings of the information collecting process.

Most importantly, however, I was able to read the cases and discuss them with the ADA. Most of the cases that came across my desk involved domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, and child sexual assault. It was very difficult to read the cases and the testimonies, especially when it involved children. I was particularly passionate about working with ADA’s on sexual assault and child sexual abuse cases. Many of the children were so young that they did not have the vocabulary to be able to describe the sexual incidents properly during their interviews. I went with the ADAs to meet the victims, and it was so powerful to see these their strength to go through the laboring legal process.

After shadowing the lawyer’s and learning how they prepared for these cases, I would go to court with them. This was the hardest part of my summer experience. Defense attorneys often grilled adult women, and I could not imagine what it would be like to have someone invalidate a trauma you experienced. When children were questioned in court in sexual abuse cases, defense lawyers would often confuse the children, leading them to alter their testimony. Many of the children struggled to even tell their story, and the ADAs worked very hard to make the children feel comfortable in a courtroom setting.

Throughout this whole process, I saw how passionate the ADAs were. They worked long hours to make sure these women and children got the representation they deserved. In court, their passion came through in all their objections, cross examinations, and direct examinations. When I watched them, I realized I wanted to be them. I want to aid these women and children seek justice in a time when they may be feeling helpless or scared. My summer experience helped me form a specific goal, and I would like to thank Career Services for providing me with this life changing opportunity.

Can(nes) I Do It Again

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 entry is by Pauline Schreibmaier, COL ’16

CANNESThe 68th annual Cannes Film Festival began on May 13th 2015, providing its cinephile audiences with new films, ideas and directors, tourists with slight sightings of famous stars and beautiful weather, and businessmen with a market to buy and take home films to their native countries. On the outside, the festival appears to be one of enjoyment- a destination that provides a journey of pleasures and process of commodification for the 200,000 filmmakers, film fans, and stargazers alike to absorb. I am just one of the many people who wake up two hours before a screening to run into long lines, hoping to make it through 4 screenings in a day. I realize how much of a  festival town Cannes is- the bus stations have photographs of actors, directors, and producers. Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati appear on walls, movie theaters line every block, and the face of the beautiful Ingrid Bergman appears in every store I pass. The restaurants stay open for hours on end, and La Croisette is filled with slow moving black cars holding everyone who is anyone.

As I try to make my way through the multiple reporters, bicyclists, and tourists, I realize that the next 2 weeks are going to be some of the most of the most hectic, exhausting, and thrilling moments in my life as a film student. I watched documentaries, dramas, animated stories, but mostly movies that make you walk out of the theater, sad and distressed. Cannes sure makes you think and feel. Filmmakers from all over the world use their art to highlight social issues and captivate audiences while reflecting upon the international anxieties that lie in the human experience.

Apart from the 30 movies that I had the opportunity to watch, I noticed the peculiarity of the people around Cannes. I’m walking towards the beach and in the distance appear a little carnival with people on pedestals and clowns painting faces. There are half naked men running around, and crazies that are jumping out in front of cameras. A girl has hair down to her ankles and it has become increasingly hard to escape any of these people. Cannes is definitely alive and well. While standing in line for a screening, I take notice of the rather common Cannes specimen, the French Cinephile. This kind of woman always looks the same: a bit older than middle aged, often short and fit, with a nice straw like blonde bob, wearing khaki pants and a button down shirt. She is quite slow to her seat, but is easily angered when she does not get the one she wants. And if she does not like the movie she is seeing, has no problem leaving. If the festival allows for a short break in your day, people watching is definitely high up on the list.

Cannes long

Towards the end of the festival, you realize how special and important it is to watch films in a theater. Films were made to watch in an audience- to feel emotion alongside others, whether it is laughter, fear, or sadness. This is why Cannes was so great, overwhelming, and exhausting. We watched films with large amounts of people. Strangers. People who had opinions about what they were seeing. They would feel the sadness with me as you hear the sniffling in the background, and the booing from some disappointments. At the end of the day, Cannes is a business. And you learn that quickly. The festival is continually changing and doing new things to stir up commotion. These two weeks were incredibly eye opening and I only hope to come back within the next decade and experience something totally new and different. After all, film itself is a forever changing.