Monthly Archives: July 2012

31 Jul 2012

Tips to Protect Yourself as an Intern: A Cautionary Tale

Melissa Reyes’ internship was a bust. After graduating from Marist College with a degree in fashion merchandising, Reyes was excited to learn she had been selected for an internship position at the Diane von Furstenberg fashion house in Manhattan. She had every reason to believe that the position would provide her with professional skills, which, in turn would help further her career. Instead, Reyes became expert in the arts of fetching lunch and running errands. Far from reviewing the season’s fashions, she was sent to clean out her manager’s closets. Moreover, Reyes never anticipated that she would be expected to work twelve hour days–9am to 9pm–five days a week. She kept reminding herself that she had landed an enviable internship that would certainly stand out on her resume. It didn’t help.

Horror stories like Reyes’ are (sadly) fairly common and should remind us to be cautious when considering an internship position. In this blog entry, I will first suggest strategies for students to track down meaningful work. Following this, I will provide tips for turning a disappointing internship into a meaningful experience and discuss whether it’s appropriate for interns to quit a bad post.

What is an internship and how is it different from paid work or volunteering?

The distinction between interns, paid workers and volunteers is, in fact, not arbitrary. Whereas volunteers and paid workers commit time and skills to serve an organization or cause, interns work to better themselves. In other words, an internship—much like going to school—serves to further the intern’s job readiness and personal growth. Making this distinction reminds us that a legitimate internship will amount to more than a resume entry–it provides challenging and meaningful work in an area where a student has real interest.

Federal law requires unpaid internships to meet six criteria. Two of these criteria reinforce what has been stated above: An internship’s primary purpose is to train students to perform tasks associated with a certain career. Another of these criteria maintains that unpaid interns cannot displace paid employees. Unpaid interns, that is, cannot perform operations essential to a business. They are necessarily redundant so they can focus on learning.

Of course, most internship programs don’t fully meet these criteria—and that’s OK. Interns should expect to do some unskilled work that benefits the company more than themselves. Such work, however, should complement rather than replace the training and projects that foster professional growth.

So, a true internship provides professional training. How, then, do I ensure my internship experience will be a valuable one?

1.) Before you start looking for your internship, define what you want to get out of the experience.

Finding an internship to further your growth will be nearly impossible if you haven’t first defined your goals. Before you even begin looking and applying for internships, take some time to consider the experiences you wish to gain.

Vague goals like “I wish to gain experience working at an art gallery” must be refined. If your expectations are unclear, research the tasks professionals in your field of interest typically perform. An internship should refine—not found—your understanding of what it’s like to work in a particular field.

2.) Talk to students who have interned in your field of interest.

Your friends are a goldmine for internship information! Asking your friends about their internship experiences will help you identify qualities to look for in a program. Good questions include:

  • Was the internship what they expected? Why or why not?
  • What was their favorite/least favorite part of the internship?
  • What aspects of the internship caused them to grow most?
  • What professional skills did the internship help them develop? What projects or assignments contributed most to these skills?
  • After completing the internship, do they still feel excited about a career in the field?


3.) Interview your Interviewer!

You’ve done your research, defined your goals, and you’ve just received a call asking you to interview for a position you’re really psyched about! Hooray!

The interview is an important time for you to not just impress a potential employer, but also discover if the internship is indeed a good fit. Be sure to ask your interviewer about the specific tasks and duties you’ll be expected to perform and make it clear that you are excited to contribute

Other questions to ask:

  • Will you please describe a typical day for interns at your company?
  • Are interns at your company paired with a mentor? How much opportunity do interns have to interact with supervisors and paid staff?
  • What skills do interns develop by working at your company?
  • Are interns permitted to attend meetings? If so, how frequently?

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask about opportunities to gain experience doing tasks or assignments that you’re especially interested in. By asking about this, you will not only determine whether this internship will help you meet your goals, but you will also demonstrate motivation, initiative and eagerness to learn.

4.) Keep in mind: A paid internship is not necessarily better than an unpaid one.

Unpaid internships are not always un-serious. Many companies, especially in the non-profit sector, offer amazing unpaid internships that will provide experience, training, and insight into the field.

What happens if your internship turns out to be less than expected?

Don’t lose hope or motivation if you find yourself working a disappointing internship. As Kayla Riley for Her Campus explains, it’s not uncommon for interns to have a lot of downtime. “Think of your next internship as an extended job interview,” she writes, “and prove that bullet point on your resume that says you’re ‘self-motivated.” If you find yourself with a lot of downtime between tasks, make it your own mission to come up with projects and activities that will be of use to the company and advance your skills. Someone will notice!

Along similar lines, don’t be discouraged if you’re asked to do some tedious work. Happily tending to menial tasks is a good way to demonstrate your flexibility, humility, and ability to work as a member of a team. Talk to your supervisor, however, if unskilled labor is the main thing you’re being asked to do. Politely explain that you can better serve the company by completing assignments that peak your interest and utilize your education and skills. Additionally, show your initiative by proposing a few projects or duties that you would like to take on.

No matter how bad the situation, do NOT act out or behave in a passive-aggressive manner. This is HIGHLY immature and unprofessional and it’s better to quit than to behave badly. If your manager is unsympathetic to a request for more challenging tasks, try and think of ways to make the best of your situation. Just being inside the office brings access to invaluable resources. Jump at any and every opportunity to speak to coworkers about their work. Also, spend downtime observing coworkers or researching the industry—rather than checking Facebook.

Finally, toughing out a bad situation not only builds character, but you will also appreciate it more when you land a better job.

Should I stay or should I go…?

Internships rarely last longer than a few months, so you should strive to survive even the most disappointing program and get a good review. Under some circumstances, however, you should absolutely quit. These include:

  • If your duties compel you to violate your values or moral beliefs.
  • If you are being sexually harassed or physically or verbally abused
  • If you are required to do something illegal
  • If you are manipulated or coerced into doing something that makes you uncomfortable


Resources for finding good internship programs:

The following websites provide excellent resources and advice for hunting down—and landing—the perfect internship.


These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

Arbitrary: random; meaningless; haphazard
Coerce: to compel by force, intimidation, or authority

24 Jul 2012

Should you study while listening to music?

Imagine that it’s late at night and you’re driving down an empty, abandoned road. You’d really like to accelerate to 60 miles per hour and go for a joyride, but there is literally a stop sign at every corner. You can’t gain speed because you’re constantly coming to a complete stop.

This is basically what happens when you listen to stimulating music while studying. Music—filled with changing notes, fluxing tempos, and passionate lyrics—periodically begs you to pay attention. Every time the music catches your ear, you are interrupted from your studies. As a result, it becomes harder to achieve that state of deep, meditative focus necessary to painlessly, efficiently and meaningfully complete your work.

In this blog entry, I will explain the drawbacks and benefits of studying while listening to music. Following this, I will provide suggestions for creating a playlist that is appropriate for study.

Multitasking… it’s a myth!

True focus requires total absorption in the assignment at hand. When engrossed in a task, we become completely ignorant of irrelevant information. We forget our bodies, our surroundings and we lose sense of time. This is because the brain is simply incapable of paying attention to more than one thing at once. Multitasking, in other words, is an urban myth.

Eric Miller, a professor of neuroscience at MIT, explained this concept in an interview for NPR. According to Miller, when we think we are multitasking, we are actually quickly but completely switching focus between different things. Attempting to do two things at once thus does not heighten your productivity; it slows you down because each task is to the other a distraction.

And so, the verdict is in…
Listening to music while studying is distracting!

A 2010 study confirms that the pitfalls of multitasking apply to studying while listening to music. The study assessed the impact of different noise climates on young adults’ ability to memorize and recall a list of letters. Subjects were tested in silence, while listening to music, while listening to a voice repeat the number three, or while listening to a voice recite random numbers.

The study found that participants were best able to memorize the list when studying in silence or while listening to the voice repeat the number three. By contrast, participants did poorly if they had studied while listening to music or to a voice reciting random numbers. In short, the study suggests that predictable noise conditions nurture concentration. Whereas monotonous repetition is easily tuned out, stimulating and interesting sounds are distracting.

…But are there any benefits to hitting the books with headphones on?

Because we learn best in predictable, un-stimulating noise conditions and we’re fundamentally incapable of concentrating on two things at once, we can safely conclude that studying to music is a bad idea. So, why do many students still do it?

Just as white noise can help the sleepless rest, music may bring focus to students who are bombarded by disruptive thoughts. In addition, music can help us tune out chaotic surroundings. For such students, music is an agent of seclusion and a shield against distraction.

Research from the 1990s has also suggested that listening to music—especially classical music—helps the brain transfer newly learned information to long-term memory. Such research proposes that the brain processes information more effectively when both the right and left hemispheres of the brain are activated. Whereas studying excites the left hemisphere of the brain, classical music activates the right.

This research further submits that listening to music excites the senses, elevates mood and reduces blood pressure, heart rate and stress. In short, listening to music primes the mind for methodical study.

So, listening to music while studying is distracting AND beneficial?! What should I do???

To increase motivation and avoid distraction, students should assemble a study playlist that consists mainly of pleasant but monotonous sounds. These sounds will readily fade to background noise while also blocking distracting thoughts and surroundings. Some suggestions include:

Exciting music has a place in our study playlist too. As we saw above, stimulating music simultaneously reduces stress and energizes the mind; in short, it prepares you to study. Therefore, for maximum results, students should BEGIN their playlists with ear-catching instrumental songs. Listen to these songs before you begin to study in earnest. Including one such song to mark every hour of your playlist will also signal your mind to take an occasional rest.

Some awesome and exciting (mostly) instrumental artists to check out:

You are now prepared to create the ultimate study playlist! However, don’t forget to experiment by studying to different artist and songs!

17 Jul 2012

Seven Great Foods for Stressed Students

Worried about schoolwork, college apps, or standardized tests? Why not eat your way to a calmer, more focused state of mind?

Studies show that eating certain foods can reduce stress and boost students’ performance on tests and in school. In this blog entry, I will provide information on seven such foods. Get ready to get snacking!

1. Carbohydrates!

 Ah, carbs—our kindest, most empathetic food. Eating a bunch of carbs when you’re stressed or sad is like getting a big hug from Mother Nature. This is because carbohydrates encourage the brain to produce serotonin, a feel-good chemical that regulates depression and anxiety.

It’s best to eat complex carbohydrates including whole-grain breads and pastas, oatmeal, brown rice and millet. Because they digest more slowly than white carbs, complex carbohydrates will also boost your  focus without resulting in an energy crash later on.

2. Oranges and Blueberries!

 Fruits like oranges and blueberries with a high concentration of vitamin C help reduce stress hormones like cortisol. In addition, blueberries are chock-full of anthocyanin compounds, which protect brain neurons linked to memory.

One 2010 study found that older adults who drank 2.5 cups of blueberry juice daily for two months improved their scores on learning and memory  tests by 20%. Studies involving rats have also shown that eating blueberries leads to improved learning ability and motor skills.

3. Fish oil tablets!

I could spend about 10 blog entries raving about fish oil’s myriad benefits. In addition to preventing heart disease, clarifying acne, aiding weight loss and promoting healthy hair, fish oil will guarantee your calm and focus.

Fish oil is replete with omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Such fatty acids are not only necessary for our bodies to function, but they also treat depression, anxiety and ADHD. In general, fish oil aids one’s ability to concentrate, calm down and think clearly.

Fatty fish like salmon, anchovies and tuna contain high levels of DHA and EPA, but they also contain too much mercury for us to eat them very often. By taking a daily fish oil supplement, you will ensure your brain’s fill of these delicious fatty acids. Your brain will reward you with its highest performance.

Note: Small amounts of vitamin E are often added to fish oil tablets to prevent them from going rancid. When selecting your fish oil supplement, make sure that it contains vitamin E. Also, be sure to thoroughly research any supplement you consider to make sure all harmful chemicals—like mercury—have been removed.

4. Nuts and Seeds!

 Rich in vitamin E, nuts—especially almonds—spike cognitive acuity and combat anxiety. Nuts’ high fiber and beneficial fat content also makes them an excellent snack when you need an immediate, but slow-burning, energy boost.

Walnuts and flax seeds are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids—just like fish oil!

Finally, sunflower seeds are a wonderful source of folate, which spurs dopamine production. Dopamine is a reward chemical in our brains that induces feelings of pleasure.

5. Coffee!

It’s true! Drinking 1–3 of cups of coffee each day is a great way to augment mental performance.

According to an article in Time Magazine, drinking caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline—the chemical agent of intense focus. As a result, the well-rested individual who drinks caffeine is more able to concentrate on repetitive, boring tasks for extended periods of time. When you’re sleep deprived, you can count on caffeine to redeem your reaction time, concentration and logical reasoning abilities.

Drinking caffeine also promotes the release of dopamine, the chemical in our brains responsible for feelings of bliss and satisfaction. In keeping with this, drinking caffeine has been proven to improve mood and boost energy levels. Caffeine, in other words, can seriously motivate us to tackle our work!

Bonus: Research shows that drinking 2 cups of (strong) coffee per day helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

Beware, however, of consuming caffeine and other stimulants when you’re stressed. If you’re already feeling slightly panicky and overexcited, a shot of espresso will NOT help you slow down, relax and focus.

If you need a boost but recoil at coffee’s taste, try dark chocolate! A generic cup of coffee contains about 130 mg. of caffeine. In comparison, a bar of regular dark chocolate (50–70% cocoa) contains about 70 mg. of caffeine. Dark chocolate is also loaded with flavonoids, a chemical with relaxing properties that is also found in chamomile tea.

6. Avocado!

Avocado is one of the hippest and happiest brain foods in town. The monosaturated fat in avocado benefits blood circulation. In turn, our brains function and think better.

Avocados are also full of potassium (half of an avocado has more potassium than a medium sized-banana!), which helps reduce high blood pressure—one of the symptoms of stress.

7. Water!

Not technically a food, but staying hydrated is essential for maintaining a good mood. Even slight dehydration can increase levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the brain—a catch-22, since many symptoms of stress (like sweating, heavy breathing and increased heart-rate) cause your body to lose water.

Water also makes you smarter. According to a recent study, college students who brought water with them to an exam scored higher than students that did not. Although the study didn’t address how water spurred this spike, it certainly suggests that constant sipping will help you do better in school.

These Key SAT Words are Expertly Identified by Sentia Tutors

myriad: a very great number of things
acuity: sharpness; acuteness; keenness
augment: to make larger in size
recoil: to draw back in alarm, horror or disgust