Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

39° Evanston, IL
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Email Newsletter

Sign up to receive our email newsletter in your inbox.



The road less traveled

The process of selecting that perfect internship can seem more like a game of free association than a meditated decision. Take, for instance, a few obvious matches: journalism — daily newspaper; legal studies — government office; premedical — dude ranch?

To the preprofessional environment that is Northwestern, the last pair may seem odd, if not jarring. College is supposed to be the time to experience unchartered waters, yet when it comes to resume building, many of us are hesitant to deviate from the standard options.

But ’tis the season for students to send out internship applications and with it arises the paradox of college: Why do so many of us stick to what’s safe, and not sample the collegiate buffet that got us excited about college in the first place?

Aimee Clum, internship adviser at University Career Services, says that exploring the unknown can be an effective indicator of a student’s talents.

“There’s so much more development that goes on during college on so many levels,” Clum says. “It’s completely safe to explore something new.”

That doesn’t mean that sticking to traditional options is necessarily bad, but it might not give students the best experience. Big-name jobs may seem glamorous but might not provide anything more than a line on a resume. A job at TIME Magazine may sound grand, but their interns may end up knowing more about the complete Starbucks’ latte menu than magazine writing.

Some students take on opportunities that follow their passion, not necessarily their major. Their jobs and internships may not be related to their future careers upon first glance, but can still offer invaluable and applicable experience.

In fact, Clum says employers often look for people who have had unique job experiences. Sometimes a walk down the road less traveled can make a student more appealing to recruit, she says.

For Weinberg junior Olivia Lund, a biology premed student, working at a dude ranch for the past two summers has given her more experience than most research positions or internships could.

Lund works as a wrangler at The Lazy L&B Ranch in Dubois, Wyo., taking guests on horseback rides and handling public relations. She says it’s the social interaction that will help her when she becomes a doctor.

“I think (being a wrangler) is really good practice in people skills,” Lund says. “And it requires a lot of responsibility with the horses and guests.”

Lund attended the ranch once a week every summer since she was 9, and the ranch’s staff approached her with the offer to be a wrangler when she was 19. Following her passion for horseback-riding, she didn’t mind that the job didn’t stick to the typical premed path.

“The summer is a break from the academic year,” she says. “I love being a biology major, but it’s nice to have time away from it.”

Lund’s decision to work at the ranch was affirmed when one of the guests happened to be a doctor on the admissions board at Harvard Medical School. The doctor echoed Clum and Career Services’ sentiments about unique jobs.

“He told me that what I’m doing would stand out more than research and that I better put it in my personal statement,” Lund says. “They think it’s cool that I’m doing something I love.”

But Lund says she doesn’t work at the dude ranch because her time as a wrangler will be eye-catching on her resume. Rather, she does it because she loves the experience.

“Yes, it’s important to have a meaningful internship, but it’s more important to have it meaningful for you,” she says.

Still, her job as a wrangler offers some unexpected ties to medicine. She once comforted a child who was stung by a bee by tearing off a piece of her shirt and creating a makeshift Band-Aid. Lund says that resourcefulness will come in handy when she enters the medical field.

Weinberg sophomore Crystal Kuo also felt that doing something out of the ordinary would offer a change of pace from her academic life. Kuo, a premed student majoring in anthropology, spent one month this past summer teaching English to native Chinese citizens, ranging from 3 to 40 years old.

“I didn’t want to do the medical track because I’ll be doing that for the rest of my life,” Kuo says. “I had the option of doing research or taking classes, but this (job) was an opportunity to expand my skills and get a different experience.”

Kuo learned about the opportunity at, which sends people across the globe to teach different classes, mostly language instruction. After reading about the high demand for English teachers in China, she thought the experience could fuse her love of traveling with a unique opportunity. Kuo applied for the position and a few months later was teaching English in a school in Xingtai, China, a rural town three hours southwest of Beijing.

Having no previous teaching experience, Kuo relied on her own resources and looked for guidance from those around her.

“You’re sort of thrown into teaching and you learn the ropes,” Kuo says. “But speaking daily to people around me helped me understand people better and learn about different backgrounds.”

During her stay, Kuo lived with a host family, adapted to Chinese culture and increased her own fluency in Chinese while helping her students. She soon realized the job was more valuable for premed students than she had expected.

“You gain communication skills and listening skills along the way,” Kuo says. “You must attend to students like you attend to patients.”

Others, such as Weinberg senior Jacob Byl, actually use their current, unique jobs to help determine their careers as well. Byl spent the past three summers house-sitting, dog-sitting and providing sailing lessons for a family in Cape Cod and their relative’s home in Kenilworth, Ill. Byl, a member of the NU sailing team, learned about the opportunity from the sailing team’s commodore, or administrator.

“I really learned the value of communication,” Byl says. “Interacting with people and active listening took on a whole new meaning.”

The job inspired him to co-create Tradewinds, a non-profit educational organization that connects classroom learning with real-world experience. The interactive program, targeted for upper elementary and middle school students, would involve students preparing reports on particular subjects from their classrooms. The Tradewinds team would then sail to locations across the globe to show them first hand how they can apply that information to the real world.

Byl says he wouldn’t have thought of the concept if it weren’t for his summer job. Having grown up on a farm in Michigan, these summers at the sea exposed him to a lifestyle he had never before experienced.

Byl and four other students — Weinberg seniors Aaron Lasher and Ashley Metz and McCormick seniors Brian Sabina and Eric Stuck — comprise the Tradewinds team. They plan to create a Web-based classroom that allows students to watch as the team sails around the world for two years, showing them how to apply the students’ research in the real world.

“We might sail to Ghana and show (students) how to convert Ghanaian currency,” Byl says of the team’s aspirations.

While the benefits of an off-kilter job or internship might not seem evident at first, they quite often prove to be invaluable experience — whether it means one stumbles upon a Harvard Medical School admissions board member or discovering one’s true passion in life. After having the ocean as his summer office for the past three years, Byl says he has learned the merits of trying something different.

“Things don’t have to be the eight- to 10- week consulting job,” Byl says. “A different job might not look the same on a resume, but it’s still possible to get the same skills and similar experience, which can be just as strong if it involves something you’re passionate about.”

Medill sophomore Archana Ram is a PLAY writer. She can be reached at [email protected]

More to Discover
Activate Search
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
The road less traveled