Metcalf Memoirs: John Lim

Going with the flow and directing where it should go at the NYC Department of Education.
Metcalf Collage
Photo by: 
Gordon Lew, College Visual Media Editor, Class of 2015
Don't hesitate to ask questions. Your resources at an internship go beyond your immediate supervisor—explore the full breadth and depth of where you work...

As the summer internship season kicks off, the College media team has gathered reflections from a few students in each UChicago Careers In... (UCI) program who held Jeff Metcalf internships this past summer. Here is what they had to say about their experiences.


John Lim, Class of 2014
Majors: Public Policy (Specialization: Education), Economics
Primary UCI program: Education Professions
Name of internship: New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE)
Internship location: New York, NY

Q: What attracted you to the Metcalf internship that you have been doing this summer?

A: New York City Public Schools is the largest school system in the nation, and it is at the forefront of current educational reform efforts. The resources in New York are immense. The opportunity to experience how all the different parts of a school system work—financial operations, policy research, administrative structures, and the schools themselves—was something unlike anything I've ever experienced before; it was a unique chance to see everything at once, firsthand.

Q: How does your major or other coursework at UChicago relate to the kind of work that you are doing for your Metcalf?

A: I took several classes on educational reform for my Public Policy major, and took a course in the economics of education last year. Many of the topics discussed in my classes are actually the same issues that the NYCDOE confronts on a daily basis, and many of the research papers we examined in class use data directly from the NYCDOE! In addition, many of the classes I took outside of education-related classes prepared me for the internship. Writing and research classes provided me with tools and critical thinking skills that I use every day at work.

Q: What was going through your mind as you prepared and showed up for your first day on the job?

A: I was incredibly anxious. It took me a while to adjust to public transportation in New York, and I was afraid I was going to be late! I ended up making it OK, but entering Tweed Courthouse (where the NYCDOE currently is located) was daunting. The building was intimidating, and you have to pass security every time you enter the building.

Photo courtesy of John Lim, Class of 2014

Q: What has been the most challenging aspect of your Metcalf, and how have you dealt with or overcome that challenge?

A: The most challenging part is adapting to ambiguous situations on the fly. There is a pretty steep learning curve working for the NYCDOE, and you have to be ready to hit the ground running. It's actually really exciting! I had trouble learning a million things at once, but you learn to adapt over time, learning to ask the right people the right questions to get the help you need. Everyone here is really supportive and willing to help!

Q: What is the most interesting, memorable, or unique experience/assignment you have had while working in the capacity of your Metcalf?

A: I had to set up the logistics for a series of large professional development events for educational staff in New York, including reserving the space, ordering catering, organizing the invites, as well as maintaining a working knowledge of the training content itself. The timeline was extremely tight, and I had a surprising amount of independence putting the event together. In the end, the event went well, and I had a lot of fun putting it together. But it was a lot of work!

Q: What is the most important lesson you have learned or the most rewarding experience you have had?

A: Don't be afraid to take the initiative—there can be a lot of ambiguity when it comes to your internship. The job description never encompasses everything you will be asked to do. You have to learn to go with the flow, and sometimes direct where the flow should go. Instead of asking questions like "What exactly do I need to do?" you learn to ask questions like "How has this been done before?" or "What is the goal that needs to be accomplished?"

Instead of experiencing your internship as a series of tasks you complete every day, you can see how your job fits into the big picture, how your actions work with the efforts of others to accomplish a larger objective.

Q: Is there anything else that you think would be particularly interesting or instructive to share?

A: Don't hesitate to ask questions. Your resources at an internship go beyond your immediate supervisor—explore the full breadth and depth of where you work. Talk to people in the same building that you don't work with directly; ask them if they know anyone that might be interested in talking to you about their work experience. Take advantage of your internship opportunity, and gain not only experience at your job, but also new insight from the wealth of people around you!

For more Metcalf reflections, check out the overview articleTo read the profiles that Career Advancement collects, click here.

UChicago Careers in Education Professions (UCIEP), a program of Career Advancement, "provides specialized preparation for students interested in pursuing careers in teaching as well as educational administration, research, and policy." To that end, UCIEP offers Jeff Metcalf internships, which are paid, substantive internships exclusively for UChicago undergraduates. For more information, visit the Metcalf Internship Program website.

Metcalf Internships are available to College students throughout the academic year, and especially during the summer internship season. To learn more about currently posted Metcalf Internships, log into your Chicago Career Connection account to search for opportunities, and to make an appointment with a Career Advancement adviser.

Tagged: education, policy