Over winter break, I saw a 60 Minutes program on Superior Autobiographical Memory (a condition where individuals can remember every single day of their lives) and instantly fell in love with the topic and decided that I had to research it for my neuroscience conference project. The main researcher involved in the project is a professor at UC Irvine. I sent him an email in regards to a possible phone interview. To my surprise, he emailed me back within 3 hours and invited me up to his lab so I could interview him personally. I was elated. At this point, summer was three months away and I was no closer to my goal of obtaining a summer research position. He was my last option and I knew what I had to do: ask him for a position. I was terrified of what he would say. Is he going to think I am a joke for studying neuroscience at a liberal arts college? Worst of all, will he think I am insane for having the audacity to ask to work for him even though I am a freshman who has yet to even complete my first neuroscience class? I pushed these fears aside and during spring break, I flew up to Irvine to meet him at his lab. The interview went wonderfully and as my allotted time came to an end, I forced myself to speak the words I had been rehearsing for weeks; “Is there any possible way I could be involved with your research?” Hardly an impressive pitch, but it got the conversation rolling and eventually we arrived at the possibility of a summer position.
He asked, “ How do you think your skills can best be utilized at my lab?”
Now, he probably thought that this was a creative question. He clearly wanted to see how I think and whether or not I had thought carefully about his work before proposing employment. thought my request through before asking him. Little did he know, my professors ask me some form of this question every day. I am proud to report that I answered that question like a Sarah Lawrence pro proposing a conference project to a professor who also happens to be the authority on the topic in question. I ended the proposal with exactly what I was thinking, “I know I may not have the experience but I will never get to where I want to go if I don’t start somewhere. I can’t imagine a better place to start than here.”
He smiled. “Welcome to the team.”
I learned a few valuable lessons from this experience. The most important of all: Be gutsy and remember that experience often comes second to passion and enthusiasm. Listen carefully to advice but don’t let anyone scare you out of applying for positions that seem out of reach, even a slim chance is still worth going for. If you can convince your potential employers that you have what it takes to succeed, little else matters. Moreover, if you want the position badly then don’t be afraid to let employers know. Employers love dedicated candidates. They are the hardest workers and the most susceptible to growth. Secondly, don’t apologize for going to Sarah Lawrence; flaunt it! I admit that until I obtained this summer position, I frequently worried that I would be laughed out of an interview for being a science student at Sarah Lawrence. Even the administration has been taking an apologetic stance in regards to the school. Numerous articles and a rather unfortunate MSNBC video clip have featured Karen Lawrence apologizing for our tuition price (Oh the joys of being the scapegoat for the absurd price of higher education across the board) and defending our educational philosophy. I think it’s time that we stop apologizing and start being proud of what are school has to offer to the world. In this spirit, I have complied a list of the most important lessons from my internship hunt experience.
I learned not to say things like:
• “It’s really small, you have probably never heard of it.” It’s their problem they have never heard of it, not ours.
• “We don’t get grades or take tests.” There are actually classes that do administer tests, we write up to 3 conference projects a semester and we do get grades. Long story short, we do quite a lot of work and we owe it to ourselves not to feel embarrassed about acknowledging it.
• “Sarah Lawrence is a very non-traditional school.” Don’t get me wrong, I love that we are different from the medley of factory schools out there. However, upon hearing these words, most people automatically jump to the “idle hippies lounging on the lawn” stereotype and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Ok, we don’t sit in 500 person lectures or mistake our TA for our professor. The ends of our semesters are not characterized by multiple-choice-ridden exams, but what is traditional about that? Instead, our classes are characterized by stimulating discussions, we get to know our brilliant professors intimately and the end of our semesters are characterized by camping out in the library and finishing up our original and erudite conference projects. We are education in its purest and most original form. If anything, we are the modern version of the “master-apprentice” relationship and that needs no defense.
I learned to keep in mind that:
• The job market is competitive and employers want to hire individuals who are self-assured, creative, ready to take risks and not afraid to stand up for what they believe in. You don’t get much more Sarah Lawrence than that!
• At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember is that our school doesn’t have to impress potential employers, we do naturally. In the likely scenario that they fall in love with Sarah Lawrence in the process than even better!
In conclusion, I frequently hear Sarah Lawrence students grumble about the perceived notion that Sarah Lawrence puts us at a disadvantage in the job and internship market. Actually, our Sarah Lawrence education is not the culprit. The bottom line is that either you market your Sarah Lawrence education perfectly or you butcher it. Like most things about Sarah Lawrence, there isn’t much middle ground. Worst comes to worst, none of our applications pan out and we have to make our own opportunities. Sometimes (as was the case for me), this can be a hidden blessing. Either way, I have yet to meet a Sarah Lawrence student who is not capable of succeeding on their own terms. I went out on a limb for a conference project and emailed the researcher expecting no response; now I’m going to be spending the summer working with him. To those who don’t believe a Sarah Lawrence education can get you places, I say, “Just wait; you’ll see.”
Photo Credit: Katherine Harrison
File Folders: Google Images