A R T I C L E S
I have written about a few of my experiences during college to extend advice to others as they navigate through their own life experiences. Topics have ranged from career advice to integrating hobbies into a busy career.
How to Recover from Losing Your Internship: COVID-19 Edition (5/18/2020)
So you just received the phone call from your employer. They are cancelling your summer 2020 internship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After spending months intensely recruiting for an internship, this can feel incredibly devastating and discouraging.
About three weeks back, I also received the same phone call from my employer that they will be rescinding my internship offer. So yes, I can confirm this is a very tough spot to be in. In the time since, I felt the weight of a job loss, restarted my job search, and accepted a new internship with R2 Space, Inc. as a Software Engineering Intern. Before moving forward into the summer, I thought I would share some of the lessons I learned along the way from this process. As confusing as it was to navigate through, it was definitely a formative experience that will help navigating through career setbacks in the future. Here are some possible steps to take to refresh your career in this tough time.
As much as you may feel rushed to jump back into finding another job, take time to feel upset about your situation. Realize that you are probably experiencing some form of mental shock. You are likely feeling hurt, angry, or depressed and all of those feelings are completely valid. Now is not the time to try and put things into perspective with the world health crisis just yet either. Everyone is experiencing loss during this pandemic in different ways. Whether you are grieving the loss of a loved one or a job loss, your feelings in this moment are completely justified.
For now, really take time for yourself to grieve because you did, indeed, experience a personal loss. Go easy on yourself and do not try to bottle up any feelings. It might not sound productive, but you must face your feelings as is so that you are not carrying emotional baggage with you in the coming weeks. Cry, journal your frustration out, go for a run, eat some ice cream or your favorite dessert. There are healthy and unhealthy ways to grieve. I found this article to be particularly helpful over the first couple of days. The mental shock may not completely leave you for a little while, but you can let the most unpleasant feelings pass earlier on in the process.
As counter-intuitive as this sounds, this is a step in the right direction. You may naturally feel the tendency to withdraw from those around you. You may feel alone or embarrassed about your situation. You will come to discover, however, that reaching out for help speeds up this process entirely. Whether you need a shoulder to cry on, someone to hang out with, or practical advice from someone, it helps to lean on family members and peers in the process.
At some point, I also recommend reaching out to your intended employer to thank them for the intended opportunity through email or a phone call. While this may sound counter-intuitive, they provided you with an intended opportunity because they felt you are a strong candidate in their competitive applicant pool. It is likely they were not able to provide an opportunity at this time because they were unable to give you the full experience as an intern at their company. With the current situation, it may also have been hard to move to a virtual format if your work requires you to be on site. Definitely reach out to them and stay in touch, as there will likely be more opportunities in the future.
Restart your Internship Search.
Once you took time for yourself to feel the loss, now is the time to bounce back, if you decide to continue with an internship. Reach out publicly on LinkedIn explaining your situation and that you are back on the market for another internship. Highlight that you took time for yourself, the intended role you were to go into, and any other offers you had to choose from during the normal recruitment cycle. I also recommend highlighting any skills you have that you can use in a remote internship such as a particular software skill. It is likely your next internship will be remote or virtual.
You will be surprised how many people will see your post and reach out to you either for an interview or to let you know they are there for you. If you left your last internship on good terms, reach back out to your past employer(s) and see if they can feasibly hire you back. If anything, they will reach out to their connections and recommend you to someone who might have a job.
Realize that this recruiting cycle will be different. Every part of this process is remote and you must use your online platforms to truly stand out from other applicants. I wrote another article going through several steps you can take to get started on virtual recruiting that you can reference in your search. And, of course, stay persistent as you would in a normal recruiting cycle. You will face rejection and see a lot of closed doors, but keep going regardless.
Make a Plan B.
The fact is, you are not alone in this situation. Thousands of students are losing internships and unfortunately a lot of this is out of our control. Future employers will understand if you were unable to find another role for the summer as this is clearly an extenuating circumstance. If you are unable to find an internship, do not feel disheartened. There are still many ways to make use of a summer without an internship.
Here are a few ways to make the most of your summer:
Identify a few personal projects or skills you want to hone in on for the summer. Whether it is contributing to open source software projects on GitHub or learning to cook Indian food, you can fill your whole summer with one or more cool projects!
If you are looking to make a career pivot once this is all over, now is the perfect time to prepare for that. Take more classes for credit or certification online and work on personal projects. Many online platforms like Coursera are offering free certifications for courses during lockdown!
Volunteer. This is a tough time. While many of us are facing internship losses, others are facing losses of their loved ones or their full-time jobs. COVID-19 has made the worst of everyone’s situations, and everyone is going experiencing this pandemic differently. Make PPE at home, fundraise for your favorite charity or small business, or join a volunteer team for your state.
If you are running out of ideas, UM’s Women in Electrical & Computer Engineering (WECE) generated a list of summer opportunities and project ideas that you can reference!
I wish you the best of luck in this tough time. Building resilience this early in your career will definitely pay off in the long run. We will get through this very soon. Stay safe!
Thank you for reading my article! I am Isha, a senior studying computer engineering at the University of Michigan. If you have any follow-up questions, feel free to contact me on LinkedIn or email me at email@example.com
Virtually Recruiting During a Pandemic (05/03/2020)
It goes without saying that COVID-19 has completely upended life as we know it. This pandemic has also drastically changed how organizations are recruiting college students for internships and full time positions. Recently, I had to virtually recruit for another internship after losing my last internship. I have been through three internship recruitment cycles through college, but I found there is nothing quite like finding an internship in the middle of a pandemic. Here are some tips to get you started:
Make LinkedIn Your Best Friend.
Make LinkedIn your main resource for finding a job. Polish up your LinkedIn profile if you have not already. I recommend reading "Leveraging LinkedIn to stand out as a college student" by Allison Kench. (She goes through preparing a good LinkedIn profile in great detail). If you lost your internship, post about it on LinkedIn to reach out for help. You will be surprised how many people might reach out for an interview, forward your information to someone or simply check in via a message or an email. Use the “Jobs” tab to find new jobs, reach out to recruiters, take LinkedIn assessments to highlight your skills, and if necessary activate LinkedIn Premium to use additional features. LinkedIn is really a great tool to use. If you are losing track of communication, keep a spreadsheet with all the leads you have and the positions available.
Treat virtual interviews differently.
While we all have done a mix of phone, video, and in-person interviews, interviews should be treated differently when in-person interviews can no longer take place. This means that the feedback from interviews now relies entirely on your virtual interviews, so you really want to make sure you are prepared and presentable.
Find a quiet spot in your home for video interviews. Treat it like any other interview, even if you are in the comfort of your home. As much as it might look cute, keep your pets away from the frame as it can be distracting for both you and the interviewer. Be sure to also mute your laptop's notifications, including Slack or email.
Of course, prepare in advance for every interview as you would a normal interview. Know the position well and how your qualifications line up with the job description. Come prepared with questions, practice technical interview questions if applicable, and know your past work very well. You may not get as many whiteboard interview questions as in an in-person setting, so it is also important to be articulate about your ideas and problem-solving thought process.
Make sure to keep your video chat link open a couple of minutes before your interview in case you run into any internet problems or lose power. The last thing you need is to be late to a virtual interview.
Be sure to talk about any work-from-home experiences. If you have used any communication software (Trello, Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Docs, etc.), talk about your experiences with those tools. More than ever, it is important to demonstrate your ability to respond quickly to virtual communication since you will likely not be working in an office.
Consider making a career pivot.
Identify any opportunity to pivot. If you found that you lost your job because the work required you to be in person, identify an industry or field that will be rapidly growing as a result of the move to remote work. As someone who has done more hardware-focused internships in the past, I thought a remote, software-focused internship would be the perfect chance to learn something new. If it is possible to continue using your current skills in a different industry during the pandemic, identify who in your connections is in that industry and focus your job search there.
Now is also a great time to rekindle connections with peers who are a few years ahead and out of school to get their perspective on things. Chat with them about how remote work has affected them so you can understand a given employer's work-from-home expectations for a remote internship or full-time job. That will also help you narrow down your vision of what you would enjoy working on most while you are quarantined at home.
Replace hand shakes and elevator pitches with cover letters.
Learn how to write good cover letters. While I am unsure what the circumstances look like for the fall semester, I can imagine at least some component of recruitment will be completely virtual. Your standard elevator pitch and hand shake may no longer be as valuable as a good cover letter. A good cover letter (along with qualifications) will help you stand out in a competitive applicant pool. In your cover letter, be sure to introduce yourself, talk about why you are interested in that organization, and specific skills or scenarios not already highlighted on your resume.
Thank you for reading this article! My name is Isha Bhatt (@realsteminist on Instagram) and I am a computer engineering student at the University of Michigan. If you found this article helpful and have follow-up questions about recruiting during COVID-19, feel free to reach out to me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Just An Engineer Thriving in a Musical World (08/16/19)
From early on, my life has always revolved around music. I got an autograph from famous Ghazal singer Jagjit Singh when I was one, learnt Hindustani Classical Vocal starting at the age of 10, and have sung in hundreds of Gujarati, Indian Classical, and Bollywood shows across North America to date. When I got to high school, I learnt both the cello and the violin and became an active leader in improving our high school’s music education program. Today, participating in and appreciating Indian and Western music have kept me grounded through the highs and lows of college.
A whole world away from music is engineering, my second love after music and the foundation for my career after college. My interest in STEM started back when I was about a year old. If the house was too quiet for a while, my mom or dad would come to check on me. They would find me taking things apart that I wasn’t supposed to, tying strings everywhere, and playing in the toolbox. I also have several baby pictures where I am messing around with some old computers and looking at cars in Detroit’s North American International Auto Show.
When I was 5, I started watching the Buzz Lightyear of Star Command series, and I became obsessed with the show. I collected every poster, Buzz Lightyear toy, and gadget I could get my hands on. To infinity and beyond! and I would come tumbling down the stairs every time because for some reason, I always thought I could fly just like Buzz. Watching this show immediately struck the right chord; I was going to be an engineer. My thoughts on career shifted every other day as a kid, but I eventually did come full circle to becoming an engineer.
In high school, I spent most of my time on music outside of academics, even if I had any remote interest in STEM. Once I got to college though, my priorities totally shifted. Because engineering became my mainstream activity with classes and extracurricular activities in college, it became difficult to focus just as much time on music. I no longer continued playing the cello and the violin actively (which my little sister has picked up pretty quickly since then!). My daily 1-hour vocal practice sessions also became at most 10 minutes everyday on a full class schedule. When I was a freshman, I thought this was a bad thing. If I cannot spend as much time on music, I will totally lose touch is what I often thought to myself. However, I started to realize that music would take up a new role in my life rather than disappear completely.
Art and music can come in handy a lot when you are a student in a STEM-related field. For example, I am currently a Technical Operations Intern for SkySpecs, a startup that provides autonomous drone inspection services for wind turbines. I spent two weeks stuck on one bug in my code and needed some head space after staring at the same screen for so long. That weekend, I spent lots of time listening to Anoushka Shankar on the way home, practicing some tough music pieces with my little sister, and singing Hindu prayers with my family for Janmashtami. As soon as I got back on Monday morning, I broke through that horrible bug within the first 30 minutes of getting to work.
This was not just some stroke of luck. In moments like this, music gives me an escape not necessarily to run away from my problems, but to come back with a fresh mind ready to problem-solve. Over the past two years of my undergraduate studies, I have run into many situations like this and have found music to be the sole answer to all of my problems. Today, my appreciation for music has strengthened through the therapeutic and empowering role it plays in my crazy college schedule.
I still sometimes wonder what life would be like on the other side, to be studying music or performance in college. What kind of work would I be doing? Who would I be studying with? Would I appreciate music even more or would I get tired of it? If I had wanted to become a music major though, I definitely would have. No one ever forced me onto the path I am on today. It is a career and life path that I am intentionally carving out through long study/work hours and immense support from friends and family.
When I look back on how I have shifted my priorities around in college, I would not see music fitting into my life any other way. I just hope one day that the work and influence I have on people as an engineer will have the same empowering effect that music has had on me to this day.
Jump Into the Deep End (07/2019)
It’s the way to go, especially if you’re interning at a startup. Things move really fast. So, while you’re here, keep your eyes and ears open to a whirlwind of new experiences. You’ll work with extremely creative and hardworking individuals and teams, feel the weight of difficult engineering and business problems, and have fun while you’re at it. Expect to be thrown into the fire as soon as you step in the door, in the best possible way.
For starters, when you start your internship, your supervisor (shout out, Ben Marchionna, the BEST supervisor on the planet!) won’t show up to your desk and hand you a summer-long project and expect you to sit at your desk and silently work on it for three months. In fact, if you’re a hardware engineer like me, your desk may well just be a place to store your backpack while you design and build electronics for the drone in the lab. Stay alert. Actively seek out project opportunities to build something from scratch that will be valuable to the company in its development stages and in the long run.
Jumping in not only shows your co-workers that you are a valuable asset to the team, you tend to learn a lot in that process by doing rather than observing. You begin to master the art of problem-solving. With lots of engineering and business decisions to be made at a startup, you have both a lot of freedom and responsibility. There have been times when many of my co-workers are traveling and I may not have an immediate contact for all of my questions. When I do run into a small problem or roadblock along the way, I have to be creative and test different scenarios as I move forward in a project. If I do hit a dead end, I’ll then know which solution doesn’t work, and eventually converge to something that does. Of course, you learn a lot by asking questions of your co-workers, but there’s definitely a steep learning curve worth experiencing with problem-solving under little guidance.
Even when you’ve learned how to take initiative and problem-solve, you sometimes want to evaluate whether owning a difficult task is a calculated risk or is overstepping your realm of work. The fundamental differences between these two are your unique skill set and the time available to complete a task.
If you have an idea of the tools you’ll need and how to use them to problem-solve, go ahead and own that task by all means. That is what I would consider a calculated risk. You may run into blockers along the way, but you will at least know how to use the tools to get to a solution. However, to jump from designing a circuit board to tackling a web development task when you have little to no experience in software development might be difficult to do for an upcoming deadline. Certainly, you have both the time and ability to broaden your expertise over several months or weeks, but maybe don’t take on a task that you don’t immediately have the skill set or resources to complete on a close deadline.
With all that said about working hard, definitely jump in on having fun while working at a startup. Attend birthday and lunch events. Join your co-workers on company sporting adventures for some friendly competition. Go out to eat with your team or other co-workers once a week or so. If you’re at a drone company like I am, learn to fly a drone and race one another in an obstacle course for a break or during off hours. If not, learn to fly them anyway because flying drones is so much fun!
Take the time to speak with every employee. Yes. Every. Single. One. That’s one cool perk you get while you’re here. If you’re at an early stage startup with less than 20 people, that’s even easier. For someone who’s working at a mid-stage to late-stage startup, you may have to put a little more effort, but it’s still possible and worth it.
Many of those conversations you have early on in your internship can turn into strong bonds during the summer. Seriously invest in those relationships, because they help you in your professional endeavors. It will teach you how to build a better life by freely embracing the risk, uncertainty, and tenacity you would experience at a startup.
When you are in college, you have many ways to get engineering or business experience. Working on research, in a project team, and in a large corporate setting all have many benefits and learning curves to them for college students. I’ve had some exposure to all three and have found immense value in each of those experiences. That said, working at a startup is an experience unlike any other.
If you are a college student, I highly recommend spending at least one summer taking a very deep dive into the startup world. You’ll soak in a ton of experience in a short period of time and meet amazing people. And who knows? Maybe you’ll get to fly a drone or two.