Undergraduates at UChicago love theory. So when it comes to transferring these skills to life beyond the College, how do they fare “in practice”? The Jeff Metcalf Internship Program makes it possible for many students to pursue ten-week-long internships in the field of their choice, an extension of students’ academic curriculum that helps theory meet practice.
The Jeff Metcalf Internship Program, established in 1997, provides paid internships to undergraduates through employer partnerships and an alumni-funded endowment. UChicago’s Career Advancement partners with trusted organizations around the world that guarantee educational and substantial work opportunities for their interns. Through employer-paid internships and grant funding, the Metcalf Program significantly increases the number of paid opportunities available to students and helps them gain experience in their preferred fields. Metcalfs are available to students as soon as they set foot on campus, and the summer after first year is a popular time to secure a position and use it to experiment with potential academic interests and career paths.
Michelle Cho, rising second-year and molecular engineering major, says that her internship at Peachtree Women’s Clinic is providing her a satisfying introduction to the medical field, answering many of her curiosities and fueling new ones. “My goal is...to learn not only what my passions are but [also] what they aren’t so that I can really hone my interests and have a sneak peek at what my life could be like,” said Cho.
Cho’s intellectual curiosity thrives at Peachtree. While her first-year coursework in biology and chemistry gave her an abstract understanding of the challenges faced by the field of obstetrics and gynecology, this internship is her first time working in a hospital setting. After jumping into this new environment, Cho credits her humanities courses for preparing her to be open-minded and analytical, both skills that are crucial for patient care.
“I am interested in the medical field because of the great potential for progress in the industry,” said Cho. “There are still so many unknowns that are waiting to be discovered...and so many different specialties within the field that can be pursued…. It is one of the few fields that is able to combine my love of making connections with people with my love of science and technology.”
Rising second-year and fellow molecular engineering major William Ramos is also using the summer to explore his passions outside the classroom. In his internship as McCarter Family Metcalf Fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), a University of Chicago-affiliated lab in Massachusetts, he studies the squid giant axon, a large nerve fiber responsible for part of squids’ water jet propulsion.
“The molecular mechanisms underlying phenomena in neuroscience are what interest me the most,” said Ramos. “I get chills from sitting in a lecture at the MBL and learning about the biophysics at work. It is fascinating to think of such minute detail.”
Ramos welcomed the opportunity for hands-on research, an approach he said differs from his education so far. “Conducting research is always different than learning from a textbook. As they say at the MBL, ‘Study nature, not books.’”
Despite the relatively short duration of their internships, Metcalf interns receive support from their colleagues and mentors. Often, these interactions develop into close bonds and networking connections for the students. For students like Ramos, these positions are entrance points into tight-knit academic fields that value personal connection and collaborative learning.
Students interested in the humanities rather than the sciences find Metcalf opportunities to help them explore their career interests as well. Though rising second-year Zoe Bean has not decided her major yet, she has already had the chance to work as the Entertainment Features Intern at the Philadelphia Inquirer, pursuing her love of writing and earning herself some bylines along the way.
“I definitely had a lot to learn this summer,” said Bean. “Writing for a large regional newspaper, my work…served a different purpose than the writing I do during the school year.…I wanted to write stories about things I haven’t written about before. I wanted to write more investigative, ‘newsy’ pieces and to be challenged.”
Alongside these new challenges, Bean’s internship helps her reflect on her existing passions.
“Journalism combines writing, which I have always loved, with curiosity and an obligation to inform the public…. I think culture and arts reporting is very interesting, especially right now where a lot of news media is examining everything, including art and especially culture, with a very political lens.”
Students can apply for Metcalf opportunities through the University's job posting site, Handshake.
Cho, Ramos, and Bean are just a few of the students who benefit from the Metcalf Program. Each year, more and more UChicago students turn to this fund for enriching internships, finding as many learning opportunities at work as they do in a course syllabus. Turns out all that theory is pretty great in practice, too.
Photos courtesy of the respective students.