The Assembled Madness: Surviving Internship

24 Jan

By Nurul Aqilah Aqiludeen

About the author: Nurul Aqilah Aqiludeen has recently graduated and is currently pursuing a career in the research industry. To her, nothing speaks more of hopes and dreams than making a break-trough in the demanding scientific world and giving back to society. She is also obsessively in love with nerdy stuff like playing chess and watching Star Trek and quoting Top Gun, yet is still very much proud of her geek side.

According to the World Wide Web, an internship is defined as a temporary position with an emphasis on the on-the-job training rather than merely an employment. Taking that into account, internship is also compulsory in most public and private universities in Malaysia and amounted for credit hours to be eligible for any students to graduate. I was lucky to be accepted in an established research institute in Kuala Lumpur that focuses on molecular biology of diseases especially on cancer and infectious microbes.

Here is the list of the things that I have learned throughout my three month internship:

1) Do your research

Source: Research Methodology

“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing” –Wernher von Braun

This is not limited to any internship placement. Check on what the company are doing, their track records, how working there would benefit you and many more. Think it thoroughly. I know some of my friends who make a mistake by simply accepting any internship offer and later on, stuck on being a routine worker without being intellectually or physically challenged. This situation would only stunt your growth in your field. Do not settle for less. Always learn from the best.

When I was at my internship, I was surprised by the way they carry out their researches and the great emphasis they place on the safety of their conduct. They put extra care on the value of their research and how much it will affect the community especially Malaysia’s health care and the scientific society as a whole. This is not to say that my previous practices did not focuses on the aforementioned, rather, it was the difference in the intensity that shocked me. I’m glad that I chose the research institute among the many other offers I received. The amount of things that I learnt here is beyond compare and it is such an eye-opener when you learn from the best in the field.

2)  Ask questions

Source: Tumblr

“ –and I like asking questions, to keep learning; people with big egos might not want to look unsure” -Heston Blumenthal

Let’s be honest. You have no idea what on earth you are doing most of the time during your internship (especially in science research). So, do not be afraid to ask any questions. No matter how dumb you think it is. That’s the only way for you to grow and expand your knowledge.

Sadly, I have learnt this lesson the hard way. It is in my nature to try first, and ask questions later. However, this does not work in a research institute. Mainly because you can save so much time by asking others (particularly the seniors) and not making the mistake that can be entirely avoided. Plus, in a research industry, mistake is money. And money does not come easy. Especially since the equipment, reagents, chemicals and apparatus cost a lot more than one student could handle (Note: the price of the machine I used could buy me a brand new car AND a house!). So please, ask questions!

3)  They will be angry at you

Source: Tumblr

“Demons manifest themselves in people in different ways. For instance, out of nowhere, somebody can become very angry for no reason. That’s not just an emotion. That’s a demon.” –Stephen Baldwin

Human make mistakes. And sometimes, that mistake may anger people and make others dissatisfied with what you have done. Nothing is ever all rainbows and sunshine in a workplace. There would always be clashes of ideas, arguments on practices and misspoken words. Most people in the research setting are bright minded people of whom will have their own ways to solve problems. As an intern, you have to understand that they are passionate with what they are doing and sometimes they may forget that you are new and take their frustrations out on you. Do not take their anger into your heart and morph them into hatred, instead, understand that they are humans and they are entitled to express their emotions. Conflict at a workplace happens. It is best not to take it personally.

4)  Hang out with the seniors

Source: Innovative Team Building

“When old people speak it is not because of the sweetness of words in our mouths; it is because we see something which you do not see” –Chinua Achebe

Yup. You read it right. Hang out with the seniors of the place of your internship. They have many interesting stories to share and sometimes, when opportunity struck, they might like you enough that they recommend you to their friends (or bosses)! It is all about networking and internship provided the platform for you, so use it!

Yes, I do understand that it feel right to spend time with your peers and laughing at their antics as well as panicking with them when disasters strike. But the person that can actually help you to solve the problems is not your boss, it is your seniors! They have so much wisdom in them that it would be such a waste for you to not use the chance and learn. Balance the relationship with your peers and seniors and you would have so much fun together!

5)  Failure is a possibility

Source: Tumblr

“ If you’re afraid to fail, then you’re probably going to fail” – Kobe Bryant

You are new. The stuff that you have to learn may be a little bit more intimidating than all the theories that you have ever learnt in classes. Fret not! This is your chance to learn! In term of scientific research, you are bound to do things that you have never tried before. You may not know what to do or how to start and how frustrating it is to learn things that your lecturers never bother to tell you about. Sometimes, you fail to understand the concept and botch up the experiment.

That was what happened to me and some of my mates. We were given a huge expectation to carry out our own scientific investigation and it is all very exciting! –except for one minute detail: we have NEVER done it before! There were moments of trepidation and anxiety. Those sleepless night and hideous procrastination were no joke. But in the end, we did it! How? Exactly by doing number 1 to 5: (extensive) research, asking (lots of) questions, understand that our supervisor might be (very) angry with us, hang out (plenty of time) with the seniors and fail (better) at our scientific endeavor.

6) Enjoy every moment of your internship

Source: Tumblr

“When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It’s to enjoy each step along the way” –Wayne Dyer

In the end, internship is a way for you to learn. Some may have the best internship of their life whilst some may be struggling to complete the credit hours. No matter what predicament you are in, remember to enjoy every moment of your internship. You will make new friends, learn awesome new stuff, get into things you would never dream of and best of all, you get to taste what life is after graduation. So, go forth and may the force be with you~

This article was contributed as part of The Pencil Box’s Write @ Internship series. We know that internship is a scary step for first-timers, yet it also is a thrilling experience of learning to recount after finishing the internship. However, the knowledge gained is not always passed down. So this is where you will find internship stories. We challenge you to share your story. Write in to

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