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MIT student blogger Afeefah K. '21

8,726,400 SOS: Self-Discovery Within An Internship by Afeefah K. '21

guest post by Grace C. '21

*written by Grace C. ’21 as a part of the 8,726,400 Seconds of Summer guest post series*


It’s the end of finals. I’m sitting at a plastic table amongst hundreds of other students in the Johnson Track Center as I stare at my completed 7.014 exam. I get up to hand the thick packet to a TA and I waltz out of the Z-Center, the sun bathing me in its warmth.

“I finished the GIRS, am in a super romantic relationship with economics, and am ready to embark on the next adventure: an internship in New York City”

I AM DONE. Not only with my exams, but freshman year in general. Relief, freedom, and possibility overwhelms me, feelings that were buried and unearthed cyclically throughout the year in hues but never with this much intensity. For the first time, I feel like my life is sort of on track. I finished the GIRs, am in a super romantic relationship with economics, and am ready to embark on the next adventure: an internship in New York City.

Fast-forward. It has been three weeks at my new job where I am conducting financial research on the top 25 healthcare systems in the United States. My supervisor is an MIT alum who attended college in the 70s and has been in the finance industry for numerous of years. I answered the internship opportunity through the political science mailing list and we made a connection through our mutual interest in politics. I told him I wanted to go into public service at some point in my life, so understanding public finance would be extremely useful.

I was anxious on the first day. I had no idea what to expect and more importantly, I had no idea what my new supervisor expected out of me. There were fourteen interns in total including myself and another intern Tina from MIT. After a brief orientation where many of the company’s employees came to speak with us, I was led to my desk. And I have to admit, it was cool having my own computer and a modern desk that could be lifted to various heights. I sat right across my supervisor and next to Tina.

The learning curve was extremely steep for me. None of my courses thus far directly applied to what I was going to do and I was fearful of not being able to accomplish anything. However, as each day passed, the path and direction of where I needed to go for this job became clearer. For non-profit healthcare systems, they are allowed to issue a form of municipal bonds called revenue bonds which is exactly what it sounds like: a way for hospitals to generate revenue. The key is that municipal bonds are tax exempt which is attractive for investors. However, since the financial crisis, some hospital systems have started to issue corporate bonds in order to gain more freedom in what they can use the money for such as replenishing funds or making unconventional investments that is unwarranted when issuing municipal bonds.

My job is to gather data on the largest healthcare systems and track their taxable bonds which will be useful when writing reports for clients and investors. Originally, I was using Excel for this task. However, I came up with a “brilliant” idea. I was going to use those 6.0001 skills to the test and use python for this database. So, I began to learn pandas, SQLite, and the Jupyter Notebook on the side while I try to architect something beyond my comprehension. Now the reason why the database is important is because it contains all the factors, measurements, and empirical data necessary to determine a bond rating. This is a reflection of how well a healthcare system is operating which appears on every bond issue. My idea was to somehow combine this rating methodology with the database using python. I became extremely motivated and excited and then… it finally hit me.

“While it is hard to see this initially and as selfish as this may sound, this summer is all about you and what you will take away from these experiences.”

I really can’t speak to internships beyond a freshman one, but if anyone is reading this and is nervous about the first internship, my advice is to not stress out! It is probably something everyone hears when receiving any sort of advice. I definitely did when I got this job. But, it really is so true. This summer is not about impressing your boss by doing things perfectly and working as if your life and future success depends on how well you perform in these three months. While it is hard to see this initially and as selfish as this may sound, this summer is all about you and what you will take away from these experiences. It is about letting yourself make mistakes and ask questions even if they may sound dumb. It is about teaching yourself how to learn and see the world as you solve new problems. Even if you get a straight-forward job that is traditionally accomplished through a certain way, you can create your own purpose and objectives as long as you overcome the fear to think imaginatively and defy convention.

Further, I learned that a job should not be the only focus of my life. Someone from the sales team gave a presentation one day and said that one of the most important reasons as to why she works for this company was the people. Not only should we as interns should be learning from our actual work, but also from the people we are working with. The one thing you can’t learn from a textbook or a classroom is the knowledge that comes with human experiences.

But, there is also one last valuable lesson that I have learned so far. What I also surprisingly experienced this summer was the opposite of what I felt after my 7.014 exam: doubt. Now that I was working at a real job and living in the most dynamic city in the world, I began to wonder if the direction my life is taking right now was the right one. Is public service the best place to influence change? What am I really good at? What do I enjoy doing? I became even doubtful of the major I have chosen: 6-14. And then, I suddenly didn’t know what I wanted or how to achieve my goals. I was scared that I will go through the next three years resenting my major or pretending that I didn’t.

But, after countless of conversations and reflection, I came to the conclusion that it is ok to not know everything, including my future career or the exact steps I need in getting there. Stressfully deliberating for hours will not help me come any closer to knowing these things. Only time and experience will help me gain more insight. All I can do is deal with what I know now which is that the world isn’t perfect enough to give me my dream job of solving all of its problems. I will continue to learn as much as I can and I will forgive myself when I don’t have all the answers to my questions because being on track is overrated. I was afraid that if I didn’t plan out my life, I was being complacent. But you can’t be complacent when you are doing your best. And that’s really the only thing anyone can do, striving (and tripping) towards a better (not perfect) self.