Students as Professionals

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What I’ve Learned While Interning as a Student.

So you’ve secured your internship or your work-study position as a UC Berkeley student — now what? I had this same question when I started working in my office position as a first-year. Starting a new job can be daunting, especially if you’ve never worked in an office setting before, whether it’s in-person or remote. I’ve outlined some tips I’ve learned while working as a student in professional spaces that I think can help anyone trying to gain their footing in a new role.

Communication Is Key

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. One piece of wisdom I’ve heard from multiple established professionals at career events is that it’s more concerning if you’re not asking questions, especially if you’re new at your job. Even when you’re not new it’s expected that you’ll encounter questions as you work. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications on tasks—it shows that you’re paying attention.

Be responsive. Emails can get lost, it happens. You can avoid this by creating a system for yourself. Star emails you haven’t replied to, or mark them as unread so the notification stays visible. And make sure to always reply to emails, even if it’s just a simple “Got it!” This is especially important if you work remotely because responding to emails shows you’re paying attention and helps build trust with teammates and supervisors.

Manage expectations (for yourself and others). Be proactive about making sure you understand what’s expected of you on the job and on specific projects. If you encounter roadblocks in your work that could delay timelines or affect an intended result, elevate to the appropriate leadership so the team has time to pivot if needed.

Be honest with yourself and others. If you have a midterm coming up and you need to take time off, communicate with your supervisors. We’re students before interns. If you’re offered a big project but know you don’t have the bandwidth to take it on, voice your concerns; you can inquire if a timeline can be extended or a task be divided or reassigned. If a meeting time doesn’t work with your class schedule, suggest other times that would work.

General Good Practices

Establish a good reminder system. I personally love Google Calendar and I check mine before every shift to make sure I’m not missing meetings, and it’s an easy way to know my availability for the week at a glance. I also use Notion to keep track of my academic tasks. Find what works for you and build it out.

Be mindful of your coworkers — they’re human too. And more often than not, they’re students like you. Even a small line in an email wishing them a good day can go a long way.

Double-check your work. It’s always a little daunting to turn in something you’ve worked hard on. Double-check everything you work on, even small things like emails. Not only does this help prevent typos, it gets rid of some of that anxiety and ensures you’re turning in your best work.

Finding a Good Work-student Life Balance

Leave work for work hours. Keeping work and life separate is a simple rule, but it makes a big difference and helps you focus on the task at hand. This can differ by type of work you do and it’s always a good practice to ask your employer about communication expectations, but most jobs won’t expect you to be available outside of office hours. Some exceptions are positions that need you to be on call or special projects that might expect you to be responsive outside of regular hours. For most of us, focus on being a student when you’re not clocked in.

Take care of yourself. Create your own routine and find what inspires and rejuvenates you. Schedule time to rest or practice self-care to prevent burnout and to keep yourself motivated. These things can vary for each person, so explore what works with your needs. This might take some trial and error, and that’s okay. If you want to learn one student’s secrets to finding the right balance, read how Hosea manages his busy schedule as a Berkeley student.

Take days off seriously. Relax when you get the chance! Enjoy those three-day weekends and breaks. Use them as time to recharge and recenter yourself. You deserve them. Even if your weekends are busy with assignments for classes, make sure to take some time for yourself, too.

Little Things Go a Long Way

A lot of the work we do as students prepares us for being interns — meeting deadlines, managing our time, and dedicating ourselves to projects. Even little actions like leaving yourself sticky note reminders and regularly replying to emails (good habits to build as a student), also help you as an intern.

Bonus: Make sure to refer to Berkeley Career Engagement and their Career Readiness Workbook to discover Competencies for a Career-Ready Workforce (on page 5).

I hope these tips help you out in your new office role!


Melissa Mora-Gonzlaez is a third-year student at UC Berkeley majoring in English and minoring in conservation and resource studies. Cover image by Student Affairs Communications.

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