A balancing act

By Abrar Al-Heeti

Managing a full course load can be quite the challenge, and having an internship on top of that requires even more dedication. But taking part in an internship during the school year instead of waiting for the summer months can benefit students tremendously.

Not only do these semester or year-long internships provide students with networking and hands-on experience, it can also enable them to master time management and other important skills vital to the workplace, according to Emily Wickstrom, assistant director for communications and marketing at The Career Center.

Jennifer Chuzhoy, marketing intern for EnterpriseWorks at Research Park and senior in Engineering, balances a busy school and internship workload. After starting her internship two weeks into the summer, she is now continuing it through the school year.

She said the key to balancing all her commitments is having good employee-employer communication, a vital component to managing schedules and staying on task in school and at work.

“I kind of explained to my bosses that there will be some weeks that if I have three exams in a week, I’m not going to be able to come in,” Chuzhoy said. “They’re very good about communicating with me when they need stuff done so that I can work further ahead of time.”

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Chuzhoy said she found her internship through Engineering Career Services. She liked the thought of staying in Champaign, which made her able to continue the internship into the school year.

But Chuzhoy said taking on an internship during the semester requires great dedication, and might not be suitable for everyone. She cautions underclassman from committing to such a heavy workload so early in their academic career.

“I would (recommend a fall or spring internship) as long as they are an upperclassman or they are very confident in their abilities in school,” she said. “I know I would not have been able to handle something like this my freshman and sophomore years. And my major is completely unrelated; if you’re taking a lot of classes and you’re still trying to be social, it’s going to be hard just to balance everything out. But as you grow, you learn more about time management.”

Chuzhoy also recommends students try out a summer internship before taking one on in the school year.

“You don’t want to end up at an internship you hate while taking classes – it’s just going be very depressing,” she said. “In the summer, you get to learn more about the company instead of scrambling and getting over the learning curve while you’re also getting over the learning curves in classes.”

Colleen Moloney is another student who is balancing a heavy course load and an internship. She graduated with a degree in agricultural and biological engineering from the University in May, and is now on a Ph.D. track and currently working on her Master’s degree at Purdue.

Even as a graduate student at Purdue, she still finds time to continue her research work she began at the University in May 2012.

Like Chuzhoy, Moloney is also an intern at Research Park. Her duties have included tasks such as assisting in a project dealing with agricultural sustainability and working on an algae project, where she helped with data visualization and tables for the statistical report. She also participated in field work over the summer.

Regarding internships during the school year, Moloney wrote in an email that “It’s not for everyone, but if you can do it, definitely look into it. It really helps with time management skills, and I was really able to get a feel for the workplace that you can’t get when you’re only there for a few months. I made great connections and friendships while working there.”

During one semester, Moloney said she registered for 17 credit hours, did independent research and was involved in a few registered student organizations on campus.

“It takes a lot of dedication to be able to handle everything,” she said. “Luckily, my boss was very flexible with the hours I worked, and if I had an exam I could just work extra the next week or something.”

Wickstrom also said having an internship during the school year can demonstrate a student’s time management skills and interest in their future, and will make them more appealing to employers.

“I think that completing an internship or any kind of professional experience … is valuable because it shows employers that the student is very proactive,” Wickstrom said. “I think employers are impressed by students who are well-rounded. They want people who are doing things outside the classroom, showing that a student can go to class full-time and then also do something else professionally.”

Chuzhoy shares a similar sentiment.

The underlying theme is “as long as you have good time management skills, it’s going to be okay,” Chuzhoy said.

Abrar can be reached at [email protected].