In the Spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the lives of college students around the world with classes moving online, internships rescinded, and graduation ceremonies cancelled. These developments have affected the career plans and aspirations of a generation of college students. CCWT launched an oral history project to document and amplify student voices and experiences during the pandemic.
Talia Ferguson is a biology major at Clark Atlanta University and hopes to work in healthcare in the future. Her internship was at a research lab at her university. While she enjoyed her internship in healthcare research—in particular, because it aligned with her biochemistry and organic chemistry coursework—she found that it was not a career field that she wanted to pursue after graduation. Talia feels that her internship has helped her build connections, explore careers, and prove her work ethic to her professors, supervisors, and peers. Currently, due to COVID19, she is finishing up her classes online and is unable to complete her internship. She regrets not being able to have the full experience. The interview for this profile was conducted, edited, and condensed by Tamanna Akram..
Can you tell me a little bit about your internship?
My internship was at a research lab at Clark Atlanta University. II worked with metal organic frameworks—basically characterizing and identifying them. Also, I had to present my research at different symposiums and conferences. This position allows me to have research experience while also learning how to work in a lab setting. I found this opportunity the summer of my freshman year, when my chemistry professor asked me to apply to the program.
How do you feel you benefitted from your internship with the lab?
It was me just trying to figure out what I wanted to do in healthcare, because by the end of my first year, I was not sure what I wanted to do. I felt that maybe I could do research in healthcare, because at first, I wanted to be a doctor. And now I want to be a dentist. So, it was me just exploring different ways that I could potentially work in healthcare. Shortly into the first year of the internship, I realized that I do not like research. The research process takes so much time. But I did like the work I was doing.
Could you talk more about your specific work tasks for your internship?
My internship consisted of meetings and a training class. We strictly did only research. Once every semester, we would have a big conference, where we just would just meet and go over our research. I also got to work with two graduate students appointed by my professor. The position was paid and during my first year everything that I was doing matched all my coursework in organic chemistry and biochemistry. I ended up getting a 4.0 both semesters because of working in the lab. Everything I was working on and doing in the lab would match up exactly with what I was doing in class. Also, the teaching assistant for my class would make sure to go over certain topics, especially if he saw that I was not doing too well in that area in class. Because of the internship, I was also able to have a tutor, whereas my peers did not have that opportunity.
Everything I was working on and doing in the lab would match up exactly with what I was doing in class.
What do you think you gained from this internship?
I think with this internship, I was able to build relationships with individuals that I probably would not have otherwise. Also, I liked meeting people that are interested in things that I am interested in as well; because it seems like a lot of my peers are not passionate about these topics topics and the field that we are majoring in. I do not really feel like they are actually interested in that field that we are majoring in. The internship also allowed me to build better relationships and bonds with the department that I work in. Since I take chemistry classes and a lot of chemistry professors know me, it allows me to have a better relationship with them. I am able to work with them better than a lot of my peers would because they see me in the lab. And they have seen my work ethic already.
I think with this internship, I was able to build relationships with individuals that I probably would not have.
Did you perceive any obstacles to pursuing an internship opportunity?
I would sometimes get in these moods. Everything kind of just falls to shambles. If I do not know what is going on, then I get confused about certain things. Or, if I feel like my research is not progressing, I get upset because I compare myself to the other undergraduate researchers. And if their research is progressing more than my research is, I kind of get upset. But other than that, not really.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your education and internship?
We had to move off campus. All of my classes are online, of course. All my books are online. Even though we are doing stuff online, everything is still kind of old- school. And then for my research, basically, we were just told to write a summary of what we did in the lab. I did not get to finish my research and create a poster and everything.
Tamanna Akram is a Project Assistant at CCWT and a first-year master of international public affairs candidate in the La Follette School of Public Affairs. Originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, she holds a BA in Government and Theatre Arts from Lawrence University and spent a year working as the Advancement Coordinator for Writers Theatre. Tamanna has an academic and experiential background in development, fundraising, advocacy, and non-profit work. She has significant international field research experience in development, women's empowerment and sustainability in Bangladesh, China, Sierra Leone and Jamaica.