A few entries back, I was asked by amino21 how I got hooked up with my internship at the National Institutes of Health the summer after freshman year. It’s sort of another “how to do everything wrong” story… apparently I’m not very good at applying for stuff, a deficiency I am trying to remedy for graduate school applications.
So I had known about the NIH internship program since my sophomore year of high school. I had always wanted to do it in high school, but I was afraid I’d get homesick and wasn’t ready to live on my own; plus I had marching band commitments, which is what I spent my high school summers mostly doing. So at the end of my first semester at MIT, I decided that it was the perfect time to apply to the internship program.
I filled out my application on time (just barely). I got recommendations from two of my high school teachers, since I was too scared to ask any MIT profs for favors (I am a huge chicken, which I’m sure you’ve realized if you’ve read the rest of my blog). You’re supposed to write a little cover letter/essay about your qualifications. Since I hadn’t taken any lab classes or worked in any labs, I wrote about being a cheerleader, and how it had taught me responsibility. (Reading back over the essay right now, it’s a little cringe-worthy. But it’s sort of cute, in an eager beaver sort of way.)
The NIH website encouraged applicants to email principal investigators whose labs were doing the sort of work the applicants wanted to do, so I emailed probably five or ten NIH PIs telling them I was interested in what they were doing. It’s actually really lucky I did, because I didn’t get a job offer until two days before the deadline (anyone who didn’t get a job offer by the deadline didn’t get a job; about 4000 people apply annually for 1000 spots).
The NIH postdoc who called to offer me a job, and for whom I worked for ten wonderful weeks that summer, was the procrastinating sort and had put off finding a summer student until rather late in the game. His PI had forwarded a list of a few students who had emailed, and my name was on the list.
The postdoc told me later that he had picked me because he wanted to see what an MIT cheerleader was like.
He also said that my recommendations were great, and that he knew that previous MIT students who had worked at the NIH worked very hard. But I prefer to believe I got my first job because I wrote a cheesy little essay about being an MIT cheerleader.
The summer was great; I lived with my (and Mitra’s) friend Rose ’05 in Francis Scott Key Hall at George Washington University, which is only two blocks away from the White House. Rose, who is a fantastic cook, cooked awesome food for me all summer, teaching me all I know about cooking in the process. I commuted about half an hour each day on the Metro to Rockville, MD to work at the NIAAA. I had a great time, and I developed a love for DC that won’t go away.
So I guess the moral of the story is that going to MIT can open a lot of doors when it comes to summer internships.
And that the MIT cheerleading squad can help you get a job.