(Im)Perfect Summers

In defense for the experimental

An internship with The New York Times. A research program at MIT. A community service trip to Peru. In communities like Brown, there is an unspoken pressure to have a perfect, enlightening, sparkling summer experience. Yet sometimes, even if we follow the traditional path of an overachiever by getting a desk job or traveling the world, our experiences still fall short of our expectations.

This summer, I had two part-time internships—one with a small publishing company, the other with an eco-conscious lifestyle magazine—both wonderful learning experiences. I saw the day-to-day life of someone in the industry, learned how publishing works, and even got to try my hand at writing an article here and there.

But as exciting as that may or may not sound, there were some dull moments. My goal was to determine if the benefits of the industry outweighed the costs. I loved the process of interviewing, writing, and revising articles. I did not love the days of countless emails and endless phone calls and bottomless voicemail boxes. I loved the relationships I built with my friendly coworkers over company lunches. I did not love the lonely days I spent trapped in my cubicle with only the rush of the icy A/C and clack of my keyboard to keep me company as I did my data entry.

These summer experiences taught me more about what I don’t like than what I do. I don’t like feeling as if I’m wasting my time. I don’t like being isolated at work. I don’t like being chained to a desk all day. Perhaps the publishing industry is not for me, or perhaps those experiences were not the best representations of the publishing industry. Either way, it’s okay, because I am one step closer to answering my initial question about my future career plans. Even negative information is information, and finding out the aspects of the job that I don’t enjoy helps me narrow down my search for positions without those characteristics.

For these reasons, I think it is essential to take advantage of each summer as an opportunity to experiment, especially the summers after freshman and sophomore year (although it is never too late to try new things). There are so many exciting and realistic opportunities to do something different with your summer—like work on an organic farm, for example, or backpack in Nepal. These unconventional experiences can be just as rewarding and informative as an internship, as long as you have the guts to try, the will to learn, and the mindset to explore.

Take Hannah Seckendorf ’20, for example. She spent her summer on a 50-foot sailboat in the Caribbean, shadowing two marine biologists working on Project AWARE, a global movement for ocean protection. Hannah says, “We dove two to three times a day, recording the number of endangered vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as the physical damage done to the reefs, to find out which reefs needed what type of conservation efforts. I had heard about this research opportunity the summer before while doing an accelerated certification program.” Even though there is no marine biology program at Brown, Hannah was able to explore her passion in a hands-on environment through her summer experience. She confirms, “I’m really glad I found a way to make it happen.”

Sam Berube ’19 also spent his summer doing something he loves. He explains, “I was taking the Introduction to Oceanography course during my first year at Brown when I saw a photo by National Geographic Photographer Brian Skerry in an article we were reading. I checked out his website, found out he lived in Boston, sent him an email, scheduled a call, and have been working with him since then. This summer, I continued to work with him, running and coordinating his social media platforms.” Sam has also done a lot of work with the National Geographic Instagram account, helping to write captions for certain posts and increasing their following by about a million followers every couple of weeks.

While my internship experiences weren’t quite as offbeat as those mentioned previously, they were equally experimental in that it was my first foray into the publishing industry. My experimentation taught me that I don’t have to enjoy every moment of the summer to have a fulfilling one. I don’t have to fear an imperfect summer experience because a flawed one can be just as revealing and important. Most importantly, I have the freedom to change my mind. And there is power in that