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The Research Internship Hunt

When it was time to pick my major in my sophomore year, I decided to choose something that was just STEM enough to make my parents happy and just humanities enough to make me happy: psychology. 

It was all fun and games until one of my professors shared the recipe for success in this field. Turns out it’s a one-step process where the main ingredient is “statistics knowledge” and all you have to do is apply it to something called “research.” It seemed simple enough, so I took the methods class for psychology to acquire this exciting ingredient. Surely, I thought, nothing can stand in the way of my success, for I am now the perfect candidate for a research position.

Just two small problems, though. One, the methods class is required for the psychology major, so my statistical knowledge doesn’t make me a better candidate for research positions; it just puts me on the same standing as literally any and every peer. Two, somehow all other psychology majors know about this recipe, so my competition for research positions is much greater than I assumed.

At Carleton, there are currently only around six psychology labs that are conducting research and around 75 psychology majors. Yes, not all 75 are looking for research, but there are plenty of undeclared enthusiastic first-years and sophomores who are. Too many people want a slice of that research pie, and there just aren’t enough available slices for all of us. As a result, for summer research internships, students tend to apply to labs at big universities. The problem here is that these universities often prefer hiring their own students so that they can continue work during the term. So naturally, Carls are already at a disadvantage here. If that isn’t enough, these universities also usually prefer students to have previous research experience, and the way to get that is to work at a lab on your home campus. This brings us back to the original problem: the shortage of research positions at Carleton .

After all that struggle of finding a research position, the compensation (if any) is quite low. It certainly does not help that my closest friends are CS majors who have had an internship in hand for months now. I’m sure the competition was tough for that too, and I’m really proud of them, but it’s so hard not to feel envious. I’m here selling my soul for a research position that may give me a $3000 stipend, while they’re earning $50/hour for a third summer in a row. 

Don’t get me wrong; I think they’re fully deserving of these opportunities and compensation. I just think that the rest of us not-so-STEM majors deserve them, too. First we struggle to get campus lab jobs, then we face fierce competition to work at university labs and then we hope that these experiences will enhance our grad school applications. After graduating from grad school and paying off our loans, we may earn what our CS friends did during a summer internship after their sophomore year. It’s hard not to feel bitter.

Maybe I need to find friends that don’t have their lives so put together, or maybe I just need to stop complaining in a school newspaper and continue working on my internship applications instead. I’ll keep you updated on which strategy worked, but in the meanwhile, if any psychology professor reading this is looking for a student research assistant….

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