Making the most of your summer break

As some of you know, my graduate school friends and I started a blog just a few years ago called Grad Girl. It was intended as a space where professional women working in the social sciences, social services, research or clinical positions, or anything else related to these fields could be showcased for their accomplishments and achievements. Our intent was to show the world what kinds of jobs there are out there and give a little advice along the way. Well, it turns out, blogging and website maintenance is a lot more work than we anticipated, so we had to shut down the website. But, since we had already put in so much time and effort into it, I didn’t want that precious content to go to waste. So, with the rest of the team’s permission, I will be posting all the content from that website here, for you guys. Here, we begin, with summer break tips for graduate students.


It’s almost the end of June, which means the spring semester is coming to a close for us students. If you’re lucky enough to still have a summer break (sorry, gainfully employed readers!), you are likely in the process of making plans to make the most of your time off by finding a summer job or internship. In today’s economy, the job market is competitive, and having practical, professional experience is a must for undergraduate and graduate students alike. A summer gig is a great way to expand your professional network and gain a strong skill set in your field of interest. There are a wide variety of opportunities available for smart, motivated women like yourselves – you just have to know where to look. The GradGirl team is here to share our tips and tricks for finding the summer opportunity that is right for you.

Before you begin your search:todo

Decide where your priorities lie.  What are you trying to get out of your summer?  Are you looking for a particular experience – i.e., doing research at a think tank, observing therapy sessions, working in a policy context – or do you need to prioritize a paycheck?  Unfortunately, organizations in the social sciences love hiring interns, but they don’t always love paying them.  Everyone’s needs are different, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a fulfilling, relevant experience this summer.  Deciding where your priorities lie will help you determine where to focus your search.

Get your resume or vita in shape.  We could write an entire post on crafting the perfect vita or resume (and we will – stay tuned!), but for now, we’ll leave it at this: your resume or vita needs to be at its best.  This means no typos, well laid-out, easy-to-read formatting, and lots of powerful action-oriented verbs in your job descriptions. Take it to your school’s career services center, have your advisor take a look at it, or even have a friend or parent give you feedback. As a student, sometimes it can be tough to know whether you should be submitting a vita or a resume – a good rule of thumb is that if an organization wants a vita, they’ll ask for it.  Otherwise, you should be submitting a one-page resume.

Ask for help.  Never underestimate the kindness of your mentors. Your advisors and professors are there to help you – don’t be afraid to ask them for advice. They may have suggestions for particular experiences that would advance your particular goals, or fill a gap in your skill set. Once you begin your search, keep them posted on your progress and ask for their thoughts. An ongoing dialogue with a mentor can be your greatest resource.

summer2You’re ready to go! What are your options?

  • Start on campus. Summer is a great time to be on campus.  Faculty research tends to be ongoing throughout the year, so there are often opportunities to get involved (or extend your involvement) in research in your department. These positions may or may not be paid.  Talk to your advisor or the research coordinator for your department – they’ll be happy to help you out.
  • Get involved in research elsewhere.  Research doesn’t just take place in universities.  There are a wide variety of firms that conduct policy- and program-oriented research and evaluations. RAND, Mathematica, Westat, Abt Associates, The Urban Institute, Child Trends, and American Institute for Research (AIR) are some major players in the policy world, and there are plenty of others all over the country. If your interests are related to behavioral health or are even slightly medical in nature, consider opportunities with hospitals or healthcare networks.
  • Find a professional organization that covers your field of interest.  There is a national association for almost every professional field and occupational concentration you can think of – these organizations are great resources for students looking for internships. These associations may offer internships internally and often have a job board with internship opportunities at other organizations. For readers interested in children and families, the American Psychological Association, Society for Research in Child Development, and the National Association for the Education of Young Children are a few good places to start.
  • Join a listserv.  Most professional organizations have listservs with daily or weekly email blasts with tons of information about internships and job opportunities. Sign up!  You’d be surprised how much information they offer.  For our readers interested in education, Fritzwire is an excellent resource.
  • Join the Feds.   The federal government is almost always hiring interns, and they frequently offer both full-time (40 hours/week) and part-time (20 hours/week) opportunities.  Check out USAJobs for positions across all departments.  While some departments pay their interns, the Department of Education and the Administration for Children and Families generally do not.
  • Go nonprofit.  Many social science-related organizations are in the nonprofit sector, including think tanks, advocacy organizations, and direct service providers. Idealist is the go-to search engine for nonprofit organizations.  You can search by field of interest (education, disabilities, the elderly), location, full-time or part-time, and other criteria to find the perfect fit for you.  Bridgespan’s Nonprofit Job Board is another great place to look for nonprofit jobs, although you can’t search specifically for internship positions.  Again, there is a great deal of variability in whether or not these positions are paid.

Above all else, be open-minded, patient, and persistent.

  • Any experience is a good experience.  Can’t afford to take an unpaid internship with the government or a nonprofit organization?  We get it.  Nannying, working as a camp counselor, and working in a childcare center or nursing home are all wonderful options.  Graduate students can look into opportunities to be an instructor or teaching assistant for summer courses – you may be able to tack on an evening or online class on top of another position.  Any opportunity to work directly with people is an opportunity to build relevant skills and put your knowledge of development, family dynamics, human services, etc. into action.
  • Don’t be afraid to contact employers directly.  If you find an organization that seems like the perfect fit for you but they don’t have any internship opportunities listed, take the time to craft a careful email of inquiry to a member of the staff. You’d be surprised how receptive employers can be (especially if you are open to unpaid positions). Use your judgment – the smaller the organization, the more likely you are to get a reply.
  • If all else fails, consider volunteering.  Even if you end up working full-time in a position outside of your area of study or career field of interest, there is no reason you can’t take advantage of volunteer opportunities in your community.  Idealist and VolunteerMatch both provide listings of organizations looking for volunteers, based on the level of commitment you’re looking for, your location, and your area of interest.  Check your city or county government website for volunteer opportunities as well.

Looking for a summer job can feel like a full-time job, but if you use the right resources and are patient and persistent, you’re sure to find something right for you. Even if you end up in a position that’s a little outside your comfort zone, consider it an opportunity to learn something new and gain a new skill set. There are no shortage of opportunities that will help you boost your career and put you on the path to success!

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