The past several weeks have been absolutely transformative. I have learned so much about how important it is to tackle issues of social justice from many angles as our research may not have an impact without the help of activists, health advocates, etc. Further, I have come to understand how our research would not even be possible without the legacy of HIV activism that pressured the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH) to dedicate funds to HIV research, and gave use the foundation of knowledge from which we pull to build our research projects.
At this pivotal moment in my life when I am soon to transition out of college and into the true world of work, I have struggled with picking a career path. Adults have advised me to think critically about my core values. The values that I struggle between the most are security and financial stability at one end, and justice at the other. What I have learned through working at CHIBPS, a professional and renowned work environment that emphasizes social equality and ethics, is that I do not necessarily need to compromise one of my core values for the other. Further, it is possible to find financial security while still dedicating oneself to social justice. I am inspired by the people I work for, and am relieved to meet people who work in prestigious institutions who are geared towards social causes. This was something I used to be skeptical of, but my coworkers give me hope.
However, the most crucial thing I have learned this summer about the ‘world of work’ is how important it is to me to work alongside people who are equally, if not more, dedicated to narrowing social inequalities and fighting marginalization through their work. I have also learned how much easier it is to stay engaged and work hard when everyone around me is doing the same. Research can get frustrating as it inherently lacks the instant gratification found in other professions, particularly within the realm of social justice. But I work alongside people who motivate each other to think critically about the work we do. I have found an internship that I look forward to every morning because I know that, even if I am assigned to menial tasks that day like making folders or printing study screeners, I will still be engaging in compelling conversations with ridiculously passionate people. This lesson is something I will take with me into the professional world; I am able to tolerate the aspects of work that are less exciting if I enjoy the people I work with.
In addition to the lessons I have learned of myself, I have learned a lot about what it means to exist in the ‘world of work,’ particularly as an intern within a large institution. Unlike college where we receive grades and comments from professors, the professional world often lacks the constant flow of validation (or invalidation that alerts you whether you are doing well). Put simply, we are not applauded for doing exactly what we were hired to do. I have learned how to gauge my competence and celebrate my minor victories like completing a study assessment on my own and doing it correctly, without expecting to be congratulated by my mentors or bosses.
The skills I am excited to have gained during this experience include conducting in-depth interviews of study participants on my own, mastering the complicated nature of our assessment documents, screening study participants by the phone, consenting study participants and getting pretty skilled at taming our beast of an office copy machine. All of these skills will help me as I pursue graduate programs in the future. In addition, they will help me think critically about research that I read in my psychology classes at Brandeis.