Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ending my internship

I am so sad to say, but my internship has come to a close. Twelve weeks FLEW by -- really flew by. I originally expected that my workload would slow down after the intern day (mentioned in my previous post), but one of the projects I was working on kicked into high gear, aiming to reach a milestone by the time I left.

So the last few weeks of my internship were spent on this side project, which actually took place of my main, original project. And it was great -- my supervisor was sure that I had tangible milestones from this project that I could write on my resume. And I did.

And with respect to the people and culture there, I have to say, they were great. It's sorta nice that, when you're leaving the place you worked at, people are sad to see you go (I mean, it's better than then being indifferent or telling you to not let the door hit you on the way out, right?). And it's actually nice if you're sad to go too -- to me, that means that you really enjoyed your stay there, and that it was a worthwhile experience. (And for me, it really was.) My supervisor and the small team we worked with took me out to lunch on one of my last days. We shared some laughs about how ridiculous my cubicle is (if you ever see me, ask me about my cubicle -- on my first day, before I even saw it, my supervisor was so apologetic about it that I knew it had to be bad). And it was just great to hang out with them not in a work setting.

It's funny -- I actually had a handful of lunches with the team (or subsets of other teams), but I got the impression that a lot of people at Blue Shield didn't have the opportunity as much as I did. And that my internship opened up a lot of avenues of information that I was privy to, that even full time employees weren't. Meeting top executives, learning about different areas of Blue Shield, hearing about new upcoming projects -- these were all things that I got a chance to experience, but others at BSC hadn't. So surprisingly, I discovered that being an intern does have its extra privileges.

By the end of my last day, I kept dawdling -- I didn't want to leave! I cleaned out my desk again and again, double-checked all my documents to make sure they were in place for the next round of work, etc. Multiple times! I was ending a great summer experience (meeting wonderful people, doing interesting work, and getting paid to do it!). But I knew that to move on, the internship had to end so I could get back to school and finish up this degree! So life goes on.

So the saddest part of the day was saying goodbye to my supervisor. I think you may have noticed a few references I made in this blog about my supervisor being awesome. But in case you hadn't, she is amazing. No, I didn't tear up -- but that was because I was desperately trying not to! She really cultivated an environment for me where I worked on tangible, meaningful projects, and was invited to meetings and events that interns normally aren't allowed. All the while, she was a great mentor and really knew how to manage people. But we promised to stay in touch, and I have no doubt we will. If you are lucky enough to have a great supervisor for your internship, I honestly feel that the battle is already more than half won.

So there you have it. Internship, done. Contacts and connections made, check! If you have any questions or want more details, feel free to let me know! You will see me walking around the new Gallagher Hall building this fall. Happy internship hunting!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Internship Presentation

One of the biggest milestones for most interns is the internship presentation. Usually, graduate-level interns make a presentation about their duties and responsibilities during the summer. Blue Shield was no different.

This year, instead of just having internship presentations, a whole day dedicated to the interns was created. Interns and their managers all trekked to the San Francisco headquarters location (including those working in southern California) for the day. The morning consisted of intern presentations from both graduate and undergraduate interns.

I was one of those graduate interns presenting. There was time for only about half of us to present, so when the time came for volunteers, I was quick to respond. My prompt was to talk about my internship and be creative, all within a 10-minute timeframe. One of my weaknesses is that I tend to make my presentations more informative (read: sort of boring and packed with info) rather than creative and fun. (Of course, the best presenter can combine the two aspects, but I’m certainly not there yet.) So, making my presentation creative and interesting was probably the hardest challenge. My compromise was putting in some cute clip art and talking about my internship more on a broad scale, rather than get bogged down in the details.

And I underestimated how nervous I’d be! The room was much more packed than I anticipated (about 40 people were there, including managers and recruiters, along with the interns). And not only was my supervisor there, but her supervisor and her supervisor’s supervisor (still with me?) were there, too. Oh, and so was a GSM alum, who interned at BSC and became a full-time employee upon graduation. All to see my presentation!

Well, overall, my presentation went well. I rushed through it a bit, but not bad overall. And my supervisor was sure to do the big nods of agreement as I was talking (always nice to see audience members nodding along when you’re presenting), and raised her hands up high to clap for me at the end. (In case you can’t tell, I was lucky enough to get a great supervisor for my internship.) So it ended well.

After lunch, we headed over to the Embarcadero YMCA to do some volunteer work. I was on a committee of interns to spearhead the community service aspect of the day, and had been coordinating our contact with the YMCA, so it was an exciting opportunity. Almost all of us (managers included!) went up to their roof to work on their rooftop garden, where we created – from scratch, mind you! – self-watering planter boxes. Drills, nails, and wooden boards galore. The YMCA staff was incredibly helpful in coordinating this opportunity, so much thanks to them.

After dinner, we all went down a few blocks and had dinner at Buca di Beppo, a family-style Italian restaurant. Overall, despite some nerves in the morning, it was a very fun day! In fact, word spread far -- for a good week afterwards, I had other employees coming up to ask me about that day and our activities.

Blue Shield is known for having a great internship program, and this day was very indicative of it. If you are lucky enough to be deciding among internship offers, be sure to ask about how they support their interns. How is their internship program set up? What activities do they offer? Are there opportunities for the interns to meet one another or learn about the company?

Applying schoolwork in the real world

Whenever I do informational interviews, I always am sure to ask if they have any recommendations about classes I should be taking, or any classes they found particularly useful. Specifically with GSM alums, I have found several recurring answers:

  • Decision-making and management science
  • Organizational behavior
  • Stats 2

Not to say that other classes weren’t mentioned, but these were definitely the top 3 I most commonly heard. I can’t speak about the Decision-making course since I haven’t taken it yet, but I have taken the latter two. And I agree – these were actually the two classes I have used the most in my internship.

I think that many of us go into the Organizational Behavior class thinking it will be focused on obvious aspects of the workplace, but we all – and I emphasize “all” because I haven’t heard any negative feedback about the class after we finished it – realized that it taught us far more than we expected. I am really glad that it’s a required course at the GSM. My only wish is that we had more required OB classes. Qualitative skills are often underappreciated, especially in business. But I digress!

Far and away, OB was the class that I have most utilized here. Understanding the organization’s culture, the roles people play, and how to best fit in and interact with the employees have all been invaluable. I use aspects of the course in my daily activities here.

And as for the Stats 2 recommendation – surprisingly, some aspects of statistics actually did come into play during my internship, even though I have more of a project management role. Blue Shield is very data-driven; decisions are usually based on data and analysis, so understanding how to read and interpret statistics is vital. Case in point, whenever a regression analysis is presented, I can follow right along. (Thank you, Professor Tsai!) So even if you know you won’t go into statistics or market research after graduation, take at least Stats 2 (and then take Stats 3 if you want to test your will and ability to stay up until 4am on Wednesday nights). You never know when it might come in handy.