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Don’t Underestimate the Power of Intern(ship)s

Summer internships, if you’re familiar with Master of Public Health programs, are a required part of the curriculum. Many of us Masters students are hoping for an amazing experience where we’ll be taken seriously, contribute to impactful work, and be a part of an organization if only for the summer where we can develop skills that will help us make meaningful change in bettering the world. Idealistic on many levels, I know.

But sometimes the magic comes together in a wonderful way and Hopelab was my dream internship with a dream team of people. The internship lived up to my expectations and more even with the unexpected twists and turns. During my interview process, I thought I would be working on analyzing qualitative data, but project timelines have a funny way of changing on the turn of a dime. Instead, I was whisked to various locations across to country to help lead trainings and be the staff tech guru and IT person during these sessions. So, I come into the office and on day one was told my role would be completely different from what I was expecting. Jarring? Sure, a little, but let me tell you, it was an amazing experience nonetheless.

The work I was doing was interesting especially because I was new to work outside of academic institutions. My teammates and all the folks at Hopelab were talented, dedicated, and passionate. It was a new space where I wasn’t surrounded by people from the public health field but who were doing public health work in new and innovative ways. A testament to the high caliber of the folks who work at Hopelab is that I can say that I can’t imagine another group of people who could make 16 hours of flight cancellations and delays and less than 24 hours in Montgomery, Alabama and amazing adventure that was both fun and still highly productive. The summer trainings were a whirlwind of on the fly learning and doing and overall was such an informative and eye-opening experience that would provide the context and heart to my future work at Hopelab.

After the summer I was lucky enough to stay to another 9 months where I was entrusted with the qualitative data analysis for the Goal Mama project. In the end, I still got to work on the project I was expecting to for my summer internship and the work was so much more meaningful after attending all the trainings. Not only did the team trust me with creating the protocols, interview guides, data collection via focus groups, coding, and analysis but they also provided mentorship and guidance throughout the process. It was a perfect opportunity to work independently but with enough guidance to know that I wasn’t taking random shots in the dark. It was the perfect opportunity for growth. As the analysis and synthesis was completed, I remember thinking that a slide deck might be a nice deliverable to the team to show them what I had been spending the past several months doing. Little did I know that it would erupt into an influential piece of work that was shared with our project partners and used as the basis for influencing the field in presentations and manuscripts. I was, and still am, blown away by how impactful the work I was doing was to the team and how my team members were happy to credit me for my work, something that didn’t always happen in other spaces I was in.

In fact, the team even noted in their learnings on the project “Never underestimate the power of interns” due to the work that I contributed to the team and to the project. I am touched and humbled to have this learning be attributed to me and my work. In the same sentiment, I’d love to add a learning of “Never underestimate the power of internships.” This well thought out, well supported, and integrated internship has been such a significant and pivotal experience during my graduate studies. The work allowed me to utilize skills I already had while growing others that I was interested in and develop a wide network of people from whom I can draw inspiration from or ask for advice. Hopelab is an exciting and innovative space that challenged me to broaden my perspective on what public health work could be and what fields public health could partner with to create effective and innovative solutions to improve people’s lives. As I moved into life post graduate school, I know a little bit more about the spaces I want to dedicate my time and energy in and have had so many more possible career opportunities be illuminated for me that I am excited to explore.

Interning at Hopelab was one of the best experiences I could have asked for during my Masters program. I’ve met lifelong friends and mentors, grew as a professional and as a person, and will be forever grateful to have had this amazing yearlong opportunity. Hopelab’s ideals of heart + science is something I will take with me in my next role and I can only hope that the next organization I dedicate my time to will be as amazing, warm, and cool as Hopelab was this past year.

About the Author:
Elizabeth Ly is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley where she earned her Masters of Public Health with a concentration on Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health. Prior to graduate school, she worked at UCSF’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health with ob/gyns across the U.S. to support family planning training in academic medicine. Elizabeth spent the past year as a Research Intern at Hopelab working on qualitative research projects for the Goal Mama team. Elizabeth hopes to combine her love for research, data analysis, and project management in her next role.

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