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An internship is an invaluable step toward finding a career in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. But landing a coveted STEM internship takes diligence and resolve. Although there are a few challenges that might seem insurmountable, all obstacles can be overcome.

Apply early. STEM internships are competitive, with hundreds or thousands of applicants often applying within the first few days. Sometimes being one of the first applicants can make your polished resume and application stand out before it gets lost in the masses.

There are STEM jobs everywhere. Any company can offer you a valuable STEM experience. Seek out and utilize any connections you have in a company with an IT or technology department. Consider a federal STEM internship or research opportunity.

Be positive and persistent. Reach out to companies that you have applied to after a few weeks, and politely ask if your application could be considered.

So you’ve landed that illustrious STEM internship that you applied for—now what? Like most first-time interns, your mind might be racing with the endless possibilities that come with this exciting first step. It is common for interns to face some ups and downs as they navigate both a new experience and a new company.

What challenges might you face? One of the most common is feeling that you’re assigned low-level tasks that don’t take advantage of your knowledge.

Be patient: Make sure you’ve done a great job with the tasks you’ve been assigned; after some time has passed, reach out to your supervisor. Let him or know that you value your internship experience so far and would be excited to try some new and more advanced tasks. In this challenge, as with all communication, how you say something is just as important as what you say.

Be polite: While still speaking plainly about your desire for more advanced work, the opposite can also occur, where you feel overwhelmed with a lot of work (or too advanced work). Just as before, communication is the key to making things better. A reasonable first step in addressing your feelings of being overwhelmed is to reach out to a mentor or someone at the company whom you trust. Let them know you look up to how they work and seek their advice. If after some guidance and assistance, you are still feeling overwhelmed, speak with your supervisor. Let them know that you need some help in specific areas and want to improve.

Learn and grow, not to compete. What do you do when there’s negative competition with your fellow interns?  First, realize your true purpose for being an intern in a STEM company.  Your focus should be on learning and making a good name for yourself, not worrying about the reputation of the other interns. Having a professional and drama-free approach to your internship will help you rise above the negativity and focus on the things that will move you forward.

What about some tips to make the most of your STEM internship? Like all internships, there are some tried and true tips to help you maximize your experiences within a STEM internship as well as a few that are unique to STEM.

Be goal oriented. Take on a mindset of achieving a few important goals that will improve you as a professional. While working toward these goals, periodically consider the progress you’ve made and make adjustments. Realize through this process that growth isn’t always linear; there may be some ups and downs, and that is natural. In the end, feel pride in your growth and accomplishments.

Network across the company. Look for professionals, interns, and supervisors that help make you better. Seek out people that are professional and communicate well, and seek their advice. Ask the professionals in your internship to tell you more about their job, how it operates, its challenges and rewards, and how you can help them in their role. If these conversations are from a genuine desire to grow and contribute, they should be well received and fruitful for everyone. Finally, ensure that you receive formative and summative feedback on your performance.

Seek feedback and guidance on how to improve. Be polite and articulate in asking questions about what skills you could learn or which projects might be a great fit for you. Ask about what your “next steps” are in your growth as a professional. Showing that you are an intern who wants to improve and assist your employer is a sign of maturity and professionalism.

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