Column | Feb. 3
It’s February, and while this can mean a lot of different things for Princetonians, there’s one particular feature of the college experience that many of us undergo at this time: applying to internships. While I can’t speak for everyone, I would say the search for the perfect internship is always a fairly stressful one. First, it’s always tempting to apply to the first few that you fall in love with. Even with your heart set on one specific opportunity, though, contingency plans must always be made. With each summer possibility comes a time-consuming application, or equally as frightening, a simple request for a cover letter (the magical formula for which I have yet to crack). Still, these parts of the process cannot compare to the one that will forever haunt me: letters of recommendation.
If I’m being completely honest, asking professors and former bosses for letters of recommendation is not even the most stressful part of the process. What’s actually stressful is the connection-making that requires one to feel comfortable enough to make these requests. All other stressful parts aside, I often feel like a large part of networking involves making artificial relationships and hoping they will become more natural for the sake of personal advancement. It’s not as if the people we seek out here are insincere. In fact, I would argue that the most helpful resources here are the professors and alumni.
Here, professors are dedicated to both their work and their students. Just this past semester, I couldn’t make any precepts for a particular course. I thought I would have to drop it, but my professor created an entirely new time for me and four other students in a similar situation. In this instance, he showed us both his dedication and his accessibility. Creating new precept times isn’t very common, but using office hours to reach out to students is a more obvious option that is equally helpful. They make getting help with your paper or simply introducing yourself to your professor much simpler. Moreover, if your schedule does not allow you to attend your professor’s regular office hours, many are so accommodating that they will schedule time to meet with you personally. I found out quickly that — as many Princeton pamphlets and tour guides insist — professors really are here to help.
Our alumni network is also unbelievably strong and enthusiastic. At the end of every academic year, hundreds return to Old Nassau to reminisce and reconnect with old friends over Reunions. Still, many come back for more than the good times Reunions offer. They return to help current students, whether it’s through imparting wisdom of the real world, post-Princeton, or getting us connected with people whom they think may be of help professionally. And while many of us may think we need to wait to reach out to this network of people until after graduation, they are accessible throughout our undergraduate careers and beyond. One of my own friends was able to find an amazing internship doing biomedical research with an alumnus at Penn, and she would have never found it had such an amazing opening not been posted online.
With these resources, it is no wonder so many Princeton students say a major deciding factor of their enrollment was the quality of networking. Our time here is so pivotal and, no matter what each of us decides to pursue upon graduating, having connections is ridiculously beneficial. But for students who are unaccustomed to the world of networking, the prospect of reaching out for guidance or advice can be a daunting one for a number of reasons. There is always the fear of being brushed off. Worse, there is a fear of negative judgment. But my greatest worry has always been, and will always be, coming off as insincere.
I love being a wallflower at times, but I also enjoy meeting new people, talking about our common topics of interest and just hearing their stories in general. If it flows, then it flows. If not, it might be disappointing, but it’s simple to walk away. Networking is a slightly different ballgame.
I feel strange when I seek help from a professor outside of the classroom. I don’t feel disingenuous, but I do fear the entire situation is a bit more forced. It can also be intimidating talking to a person who has studied for years what you just discovered you’re interested in week ago. Furthermore, while the ease of the conversation or connection-making process is still important, a lack of ease does not necessarily mean it’s best to walk away.
I hope that one day, when I email a professor or a potential connection, it’ll be with more confidence and less (hopefully subtle) unease. The tiny feeling of guilt that tells me that I am using someone will be gone, because I will have fully realized and accepted that people do in fact want to help us, and that using these connections is not a crime.
Lea Trusty is a sophomore from Saint Rose, La. She can reached at email@example.com.