(An Incomplete Guide to) Summer Opportunities for MIT Students by Phoebe C. '18
Pantsuits, stress, hyperlinks.
This past Friday was the MIT career fair, a huge event where hundreds of companies send recuiters to set up booths at MIT. It fills up an ice rink, a track, and a basketball court; over 4000 students attend. It’s preceded and followed by a lot of info-sessions, panels, networking events, and anxiety.
Last year, I went to the career fair with the primary intention of nabbing as many free t-shirts as possible (33, in case you were interested); I attended company talks primarily for the free meals. I spent my freshman year actively avoiding thoughts of Real Life. Jobs, internships, résumés: I was having none of it–my focus was on adjusting to the new environment and making friends rather than the career grind.
Over the summer, it dawned on me that I would actually be eligible for many internships this summer and that I should perhaps fix the formatting of my résumé and invest in some business-casual clothing. And so, before the summer had even ended, I was already preoccupied with plans for the next. I find it crazy that recruiting season is so early in the semester, but at this point I’m just rolling with the punches and hoping the early start points to an early finish; I’d really like to have more time to focus more on classes, community, and personal growth.
I’m far from having it all figured out, but here are some steps that I’ve taken this semester:
1) Applying to externships
The deadline this year was September 23, but this program runs every year. These are mini-internships, or “externships”, held over IAP; each externship is hosted by an MIT alum. More information is on this page, but you essentially look through the listings and decide on three to apply to. If you’re so inclined, you can attend an info-session to learn more or ask questions. You need a résumé, often a cover letter, and often an unofficial transcript.
2) Having my résumé critiqued
A lot of clubs hold critique events in September, as does GECD, MIT’s Global Education & Career Development office. GECD has generous drop-in hours in the weeks preceding the career fair, and my fifteen-minute meeting was helpful.
3) Attending company presentations
I have a vague sense of what different industries do and what types of majors lead to which industries, but when looking for an internship, it’s very important for me to have a sense of what employees’ everyday responsibilities are and what kinds of problems they’re working on. At these presentations, you get the chance to hear directly from employees and to talk to them afterwards, which is really helpful when you’re trying to narrow down potential options.
4) Career fair
This is the obvious one. Because it was my first time actually trying to sell myself, I had only a vague sense of whether I was doing it well, but I scoped out the list of companies beforehand and had a rough idea of what industries I was interested in. I did some background research, prepared questions, asked about internship openings, dropped a lot of résumés, and so on.
Career fair day is typically a student holiday, but MIT’s start date was pushed back a week this year due to a late Labor Day; to compensate, we had classes on the day of the career fair this year, which led to a lot of running around campus and scrambling to turn in psets on time. So it was quite a hectic day.
But what if you don’t want to apply for internships? What if you don’t want to apply for internships right now? Completely understandable–it is, after all, reaching the point in the semester when everything else is suddenly picking up and becoming overwhelming.
Alternatively, what are you supposed to do if you’re a freshman with little work experience? What if you blew off the career fair? How on earth did I manage to find something to do last summer that wasn’t “lie on my couch and admire my collection of free American Apparel t-shirts”?
1) If your apprehension stems from self-doubt–still apply! You never know how things will turn out unless you try. Obviously, if you have none of the required qualifications, it might be worth working on building those skills so that you are a viable candidate in future years.
2) Go abroad with MIT. A lot of programs (SMURF, MISTI, MISTI GTL, IROP, to name a few) are wide-open for freshmen (and upperclassmen!) looking to gain some research/work/teaching experience and see other countries–immersing yourself in the culture of another country really broadens your worldview and gives you the opportunity to learn about other cultures, see beautiful places, and connect to people you never would’ve met otherwise.
Many of these programs have language requirements. But many don’t. A lot of the due dates are rather early and can fly past; last year, I missed many of the deadlines, but I did still catch the one for IROP, which took me to Hong Kong for the summer. Also, I’m pretty sure that if you independently find a lab or company in a MISTI country, you can contact the MISTI staff about being part of the program.
As a freshman, the main issue you’ll run into will probably be finding professors to write your letters of recommendation, (though I’ve been told that you can sometimes delay handing these in until you’ve spent a little more time at MIT). I don’t think I did a very good job of building these connections during my freshman year—partially due to large GIR lectures and partially because I’m more of the sit-silently-and-get-good-grades type1—but please don’t be like me! I don’t even want to be like me in this regard—go to office hours and talk to professors!
If you, like me, think office hours are primarily for clarifying pset problems and wonder how it’s even possible to impress your professor while asking a question they might find totally trivial2, MIT also funds student-faculty dinners (or at least they did last year). These can be a good way to learn more about your professor, his/her research, and his/her interests outside of what is taught in class.
3) If you can spare the time, find an interesting UROP during the semester. These can help you get a sense of what kind of work you are/aren’t interested in—although some UROPs have prerequisites and requirements, many don’t or are flexible! And the opportunities certainly reach beyond what is listed on the site—I found my first UROP by emailing around the Media Lab. Many students also find UROPs for the summer or stay on campus to continue working on their semester UROP over the summer.
Incidentally, if you apply before the deadline for direct funding, it’s also a nice way to earn a little extra spending money. Furthermore, it puts you in direct contact with a graduate student and possibly the professor who is the PI of the lab. I found that having a faculty member who had seen my work ethic in action was very helpful for letters of recommendation.
4) Some companies have programs for freshmen. Off the top of my head, I know that Google, Microsoft, and Facebook host such programs, but I bet there are more, and there might be companies outside of the tech/EECS realm3 that also offer such programs or hire freshmen.
5) Ask your advisor about programs within your major, or do some research online. For example: course 3 has an internship program. So does course 17 (including the MIT-Washington program, which is open to students of all courses). Look–there’s a big list here!
6) There will be more career fairs later in the year. See this list.
7) Apply to MIT’s programs for professional devleopment–I’m aware of F/ASIP and UPOP, professional development programs for freshmen and sophomores, respectively, but there must be more out there, which will probably be publicized via email.
8) Do something else. It can be completely off the grid. One of my good friends from MIT spent a good part of the summer hitchhiking up the west coast, and she’s doing just fine. But really, it doesn’t even have to be something that takes a lot of gumption or energy. Read, talk, bathe, lie in the sun, dance. Work on something–or don’t. You will be fine.
Finally, if you have an idea for independent summer research or want to spend time abroad for something related to your education, MIT offers a lot of opportunities for students to receive funding. The Kelly-Douglas Fund is dedicated to helping students (only sophomore+, unfortunately, though freshmen with sophomore standing also qualify) travel over IAP or the summer in order to pursue HASS-related interests. The Peter J. Eloranta Undergraduate Research Fellowships fund novel research ideas. More funding opportunities are listed on this GECD webpage.
UROP (during year or summer)
Externship (during IAP, deadline has passed for this year)
GECD (not a program per se, but helpful for preparation)
Future career fairs
List of lots of internships, including departmental programs
Kelly-Douglas Fund (not open to freshmen, except those with sophomore standing in the spring semester)
Peter J. Eloranta Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships
As you can probably tell, the list could go on and on. It’s also really useful to ask upperclassmen and classmates what they did and go from there, but so many of these MIT webpages are so underappreciated! This post is just a rough introduction to what’s out there. Good luck!
1 This was in large part because I was confused about what I wanted to study. I thought I’d be a computer science major and ended up taking a lot of CS classes my freshman spring, but I wasn’t very excited about any of them. Eventually, I realized I was more interested in theoretical problem-solving and the humanities. This is another post for another time, but I wanted to explain that this year I’m taking classes that I would be more inclined to think about casually; I’m hopeful about the prospect of building more meaningful connections within my major this year.
2 Maybe this is because I’m a math major and it’s hard to have casual conversations about material from math class the way that a bio major might, say, talk about a medical technique related to something he/she learned in bio class.
3 Possibly Bank of America and Jane Street, if I overheard correctly at the career fair.