Stepping Out of Your Professional Comfort Zone

By: Abbey Pober

Image of ArrowsCom·fort zone / ˈkəmfərt zōn / noun: a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress.

Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview once, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk… in a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” I can think of no better example of a professional who has taken calculated risks in their career which have resulted in incredible professional learning and growth. Stepping outside your “comfort zone” is a risk that is known to lead to big rewards when done strategically. If your goal is growth in your career, professional development is key to your success.

Why do you want to push yourself to do something outside your professional normal? The reason that motivates you is personal, changes based on where you are in your career, and can range from wanting a promotion, to needing to build new skills. Some of the benefits to challenging yourself professionally include:

  • Building your confidence
  • Strengthening your resume
  • Opening doors to new opportunities
  • Gaining new perspectives that change the way you approach your work
  • Discovering something you love
  • Increasing your resiliency

So, how exactly do you step out of your comfort zone? Again, this looks different for everyone.  You should be looking for an opportunity that will push you to try something new, or that will strengthen a weakness you want to work on.  If your work has you sitting behind a computer all day without much human interaction, consider seeking out speaking engagements, or ask to run part of a meeting for your department/team. Or perhaps you are a person who can talk to a crowd all day but struggles to sit down and focus on tasks for a long time? You could ask to take on an important project that will require you to sit down, plan for, and complete tasks individually rather than in a group setting. Not sure where to start? Here are some ideas:

  • Join a professional organization
  • Submit a proposal to present about something you are skilled at/an expert on at a conference
  • Reach out to someone you’ve been meaning to connect with
  • Write a blog/create something to share your expertise
  • Take a class that will challenge you

The important piece to stepping out of your comfort zone is taking the first step and doing it. When choosing what you will do to grow professionally, remember to be reasonable about the time and resources you must commit to it. Want to push yourself this semester? Consider joining a club/organization here at Wentworth, or reach out to your Co-op + Career Advisor to discuss ideas on how you can get involved off campus professionally.

To meet with a Co-op + Career advisor, make an appointment or swing by fall drop-in hours every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 1:30 – 4:00 PM. Our office is located at 101 Wentworth Hall. Feel free to contact us via email at coopsandcareers@wit.edu, or call us at 617-989-4101.

Cycle of learning, doing, and reflecting

By: Caitlin Brison

Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.  – Chinese Proverb

Kolb’s (1984) Experiential Learning model proposes that we are naturally capable of learning, but experience plays a critical role in knowledge construction and acquisition. Experiential learning teaches students competencies for real-world success. Although we can simulate the real world in the classroom, lab, and studio – authentic experiential learning creates an invaluable opportunity to prepare students for a career.

Consider the cycle of experiential learning and how your co-op semesters encourage learning and comprehension…

CONCRETE EXPERIENCE: The learner encounters new experiences at co-op.

              Act: Taking on new projects, responsibilities, being an integral team member.

  • Learn new skills sets: software, hardware, tools, devices, methods, processes, etc.
  • Manage a project independently or collaborate with interdisciplinary engineers.

 REFLECTIVE OBSERVATION: The learner reflects on experience and identifies inconsistencies between experience and understanding.

                Reflect: Actively reflect on what is contributing to successes and failures.

  • Keep a daily “journal” during co-op that details your accomplishments and best practices.
  • Request meetings with your supervisor to reflect on your progress. After spending time researching and thinking, ask for assistance or clarification.
  • Complete Self Evaluation thoroughly. Reflect on learning goals and progress.

ABSTRACT CONCEPTUALIZATION: Through active reflection, the learner creates a new concept or modifies an existing one. Analyzes concepts to form conclusions.

Think: Organize new information with pre-existing knowledge. Consider what is being learned on co-op, and how does it fit with lecture, studio, labs, projects, etc.

  • Construct new meanings through hands on experiences or observation.
  • Find more opportunities to uncover the “how” or “why” something is the way it is.
  • Seek information and content on the new ideas: books, blogs, videos, etc.

ACTIVE EXPERIMENTATION: The learner tries out new knowledge; applies conclusions to new situations.  Engages in new concrete experiences!

                Apply:  Actively apply constructed knowledge to new situations to deepen understanding.

  • Take what you have learned on co-op and apply it into other co-op projects, coursework, lab, studio, capstone, and your next co-op or job.
  • This often leads to new concrete experiences and the cycle continues!

Experiential learning advances course based learning outcomes and increases employability skills.  It encourages collaboration, an exchange of ideas, and lifelong learning.  Co-op equips Wentworth students to evolve their understanding of complex topics and excel in their career.

Kolb, D.. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Alumni Spotlight: Ben Kazan, Director of Information Systems and Staff, John Hancock Investments

Meet Ben Kazan, Wentworth Computer Science 11’ Alumnus and current Director of Information Systems and Staff at John Hancock Investments.

Tell us about your current role: I manage and lead an agile team which directly supports and delivers technology for John Hancock Investments.  We largely specialize in data warehousing solutions but also support a variety of business applications that are crucial to our business function.  The team I manage is comprised of analysts, developers, technical experts, and scrum masters – all to deliver a cohesive product to our end users.

Tell us a bit about your Co-op as a Wentworth student: I was a Support Analyst for Harvard University IT (HUIT). I supported the students and faculty in a variety of ways including, maintaining the helpdesk inbound call center, supporting walk up desktop issues at the computer clinic, and managing several computer labs.

What did you learn from during co-op that you still use today? The communication skills and ability to triage/prioritize issues are fundamental skills I learned during my co-op that I use each and every day.  Communication skills by phone, email, and in person were all areas I improved on while with HUIT and those soft skills have gone a long way in furthering my career.  The other skill I use every day is to triage and prioritize issues that may arise. This level of quick problem solving and understanding how systems and processes work together is a skill that is hard to learn, its one of those things you learn by trial and error and my co-op experience gave me many opportunities to build this skill and understand how to keep calm when there are multiple priorities competing for your attention.

How has your career progressed since you left Wentworth? I started at John Hancock with an entry level position as an operations analyst and over time I explored different career paths at John Hancock including: release management, data modeling, production support, project management, system management, and ultimately the director of both staff and systems.  I’ve learned that the finance industry is one that is constantly evolving. Through that change I’ve been fortunate to get different opportunities that have ultimately shaped my view of the John Hancock organization and allow me to understand the various touch points and key contacts across the organization that can help move things along.  At an organization the size of John Hancock, this is a critical skill and the only way to really get all these skills is to try out different roles. John Hancock offers rotational programs to new hire and recent college graduates, which allow you to explore different parts of the organization in 3, 1 year intervals – before settling into a full-time and long-term role.

What advice do you have for students looking for co-ops and soon to be graduates seeking full-time opportunities? Try new things, don’t be afraid to fail, understand what makes you stand out – and own what you do!  Ownership and follow through are skills that will always show your true value, taking on new challenges and owning those as you go is the best way to grow and succeed at any organization.  Aside from this, I recommend finding people within your organization and outside that you can connect with for guidance and mentor-ship. As your career unfolds having people who truly understand what your ‘differentiator’ is, and who will speak up for you and understand what you bring to the table that makes you unique is an extremely important part of career growth.

Want to learn more about what it’s like to work at John Hancock? Join members of their Software Development Program on June 13th for an Info Session from 5PM -7PM in Beatty 401. Register on WITWorks and bring your questions about working as a software developer, what it’s like to work for John Hancock, and how to apply for their Software Development Program. Info Session will include a brief presentation, Q&A time, networking, PLUS pizza and beverages.

Student Co-op Spotlight: An Unconventional Search

Video Transcript:

Meet James Coyne: Computer Science Class of 2020

I’m James, I’m a Sophomore, I just got a co-op at a company called Black Math.

How did you hear about BlackMath?

So, I actually found them through WITworks, and then I checked out their website.

What was your application process like?

I wrote a cover letter. I made it really nice and made all my information available. Linked my resume, my personal website, portfolio, all that stuff. Sent that in, didn’t hear anything back, for a week or so.  I also checked out their Instagram and I followed them. A few days later some dude follows me, I’m like alright cool this happens all the time, it’s just someone. But then I checked their profile and saw that they worked at BlackMath. So then, I’m like “Ahha” who could this be? So I messaged them and said “Hey I’m really trying to work there, it looks like a cool company – how do you like it?” The next day, I got a response back and the person said “I really like it here, it’s a really great space and a really great company. I’m a little biased though because I’m actually the co-founder.” I got on a phone call with him about two hours after the fact, I wasn’t planning any of this, and I wasn’t super prepared. He was a huge fan of all the work that I had done on my Instagram and the other stuff I’ve been doing. I basically got the job then and there.  After that, he checked with the other co-founder and decided they wanted to bring me into the space so that I could check everything out and meet everyone and the other co-founder could get familiar with me as well.

I went in there on a Tuesday, checked it out, saw their office, met some people, shook some hands. Everyone really liked me, the other co-founder thought I was really cool, got hired on the spot, that was really neat.

We’re excited for you, James! What are you most looking forward to?

A company like this has really been what I’ve been looking for since the very get go. As a sophomore, obviously I’m probably a little less desirable than a Junior or Senior who has more experience. I knew I needed to be more competitive and send in more applications, etc. just be better to prove myself. I’ve been applying since October to some places! I’m really exited to work for a company that does creative media like Black Math does. Has kind of the startup, low key, relaxed culture, like Black Math does. A lot of people that I feel are like mined individuals to me. They do a lot of really cool work and I’m really just doing the work I’ve dreamed about doing. I never thought I would be able to actually find a company that fits all my needs like this so well. Its incredible!

Thank you for sharing your co-op story with us, James! We can’t wait to hear all about your experience when you get back to campus in the fall.

Informational Interviewing

By: Ria Kalinowski

Networking is a crucial, and often underutilized, method for finding your next job or co-op. Informational interviewing is a form of networking that helps you gain valuable connections and insight into your target industry. Learn about company culture, what tools, skills, and/or certifications are essential to the industry, and how influential people got where they are.

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Where do I start?

Create a list of target companies where you would like to work. Use the “People also viewed” feature on LinkedIn company pages or the “Similar Companies Nearby” feature on Buzzfile to create a list of companies that you are interested in learning more about. Find professionals at those companies or similar companies that hold positions of interest on company websites or LinkedIn. Use the “See alumni” tool on Wentworth’s LinkedIn page to find contacts with whom you already have something in common. You can also conduct informational interviews with professors, friends, family members, or colleagues or ask them for recommendations of people to speak with. 

How do I reach out?

Connect with people you want to speak with through email, LinkedIn, or over the phone. Use emails4corporations to find people’s email addresses. You can ask to connect with people on LinkedIn with a tailored message or message them directly if you are members of the same group. Use the Informational Interviewing handout and the Informational Interview Email Samples handout for guidance on what to say. 

How do I prepare?

As an informational interview is a chance for you to get advice, you will be asking the majority of the questions. Thoroughly research the company and person you will be meeting with to ask intelligent questions. Explore their website, their social media channels, and any current news stories about them. Don’t ask questions that you can answer with a quick Google search. Ask open-ended questions and follow the TIARA Framework (Trends, Insights, Advice, Resources, Assignments) to allow your connection to talk about themselves. Asking questions in this order “maximizes the chance that that stranger becomes an advocate by the end of the conversation”[1].

What does an informational interview look like?

An informational interview usually lasts 20-30 minutes. Don’t take up too much of your connection’s time and make the location convenient to them as they are doing you a favor. Although it is best to meet with them in-person, informational interviews can also happen over Skype or the phone. In-person meetings help you to make a more lasting impression so remember to dress and behave professionally. Oftentimes, you will meet at your connection’s place of business which gives you more opportunity to view the company culture first hand. Have your most recent resume with you but don’t give it to them unless they ask. Remember: you are not there to ask for a job, just to ask for advice! Ask them your questions, take good notes, and don’t go over the time limit that was set. Thank them at the end, ask to stay connected with them over LinkedIn, and see if they are willing to recommend anyone else that you can contact for additional advice.

What next?

Using the notes that you took, send a thank you note within 24 hours. Reference something you spoke about or a resource they wanted you to check out. Attach your resume to the email, if you hadn’t already had a chance to provide it, asking for their feedback. Make sure to follow-up with the resources, assignments, or contacts that they provided to you. Set a recurring monthly calendar alert to reconnect with the individual and mention how their advice has helped you.

Over time, you will develop a network of people who you can reach out to when it is time to conduct your next co-op or job search. You will also gain valuable information about what direction to take your career and what it takes to get there.

[1] Informational Interviewing with Steve Dalton: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FsUm5noXEM

Picture Source: wikiHow

 

Meet Hannah Schulze, 2nd runner up for this semester’s “Share Your Co-op Contest”

Hannah Schulze is a current Wentworth student majoring in Biomedical Engineering and minoring in Writing. Here’s what Hannah shared with us about her Science Writing internship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital:

Where was your co-op? What was it like to work there?

The Brigham and Women’s Hospital Office of Strategic Communication oversees internal communications and media relations for more than 18,000 employees and medical and research staff. I worked closely with the Senior Science Communication Specialist to bring cutting edge research forward, help principal investigators reach a variety of audiences and accurately communicate science to the public. The team covers a lot of ground, so I had the chance to jump in and help with a variety of projects across the department. The team made it easy for me to find my place in the BWH community.

While on co-op, what project(s) were you a part of or working on, that inspired you?

I had many opportunities to interview and photograph incredible investigators in the field of medicine and craft pieces to help amplify their research. This photo (featured below) represents one of many lab visits—a conversation between Jeff Karp, a leading researcher in bioengineering, and Janine Benyus, co-founder of the Biomimicry Institute. Now, I’m back in classes and starting as a Volunteer Content Creator for the non-profit associated with the Biomimicry Institute, AskNature. AskNature is a free online community focused on helping designers and entrepreneurs find inspiration from biology and nature. I learned so much from the team at BWH, and now I’m part of another meaningful project that I might not have otherwise known about. Co-op is about finding those opportunities.

Based on your co-op experience, what industry/position do you see yourself in the future?

Across my time at Wentworth, I’ve had three co-ops. My experience solidified the importance of an organization’s mission and culture over having a specific job function. I bring a wide range of experiences to the table, and I want to be somewhere that uses all of them—technical and creative alike.

What is a major takeaway from your co-op experience?

In terms of advice for others—use this as an opportunity to network and accumulate a bank of advice. The great thing about advice? You don’t have to take it if you don’t want to, so just ask for it. Being in the industry space, the people you encounter will have a better idea of what’s out there than you do. Use them as resources.

Make sure you’re listening and absorbing. Even if it’s not something you’re working on or that’s affecting you at that moment, you might be involved soon. This is a great exercise in adaptability. Be one step ahead.

Probably my biggest piece of advice: don’t be afraid to act like you’re on the team—feel free to speak up in meetings, ask questions, get to know the team and be part of the community. That’s the part of the co-op experience where you actually figure out what you’re looking for in the future.

What made you enter the contest and why did you choose the photo entered?

My co-op experiences have been a little bit outside the status quo, and I want my peers to know that they can make that happen for themselves. Go with what you’re interested in, and trust your gut. The photo I entered represents a time where I connected with some wonderful and very interesting people who inspired me. I was on a team that provided great opportunities to learn, and I grabbed them.

Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Hannah! Be on the lookout for our next “Share Your Co-op” Contest in the coming semesters.

On Finding a Research Co-op

 By: Lauren Creamer

I’m finding it more and more common these days that Wentworth students are thinking about education beyond their time at the Institute. Many students are considering graduate studies that involve some sort of research component (i.e. a PhD program would require research, dissertation, etc.). Like you would prepare for any other job after graduation, you will want to prepare for graduate-level academic research by… wait for it… doing academic research as an undergrad. This shows admissions representatives and department chairs that you are dedicated to the field and understand the commitment required of the program.

There are a few angles I suggest students consider when trying to identify a research experience that could count for co-op: Research Experience for Undergraduates, local area research hospitals, collaborating with faculty at Wentworth, or at a research institution (like The Jacobs Institute or WHOI).

Research Experience for Undergraduates, or REUs for short, are funded by the National Science Foundation, take place at universities across the nation, and span a number of academic disciplines. I see applied math and engineering students take advantage of these opportunities at high levels. REUs almost exclusively take place over the summer, so they are best suited for majors with summer co-op (applied math, electromechanical engineering, architecture), or as the optional summer co-op. Each program has its own application process, and deadlines are usually several months before students would typically begin their co-op searches (think early January/February). Applicants will have to submit a personal statement, which your CO-OP + CAREER Advisor can review! The most important thing to remember about REUs: don’t just blindly apply to as many as you can. Be thoughtful about which programs best fit your skills and interests (and graduate school goals).

Pro Tip: Many REUs cover the cost of housing, provide a stipend, and sometimes cover travel costs.

For those interested in the medical field, finding a co-op at one of Boston’s many research hospitals is a fantastic idea. We have had students do co-ops at MGH, Brigham and Women’s, Boston Children’s, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, to name a few. Sometimes the careers pages on the websites of these hospitals will have formal intern postings (usually for summer), but in many cases, you can find the contact information for lab heads online. Most non-profits list employee contact information in a directory. It could also be found on the page of a particular lab or research group.

My advice to students seeking research in a hospital setting is this: narrow down your research topic to something a bit more specific (like “neuro-imaging research” or “pediatric cardiovascular devices”) and do a simple Google search of that phrase. You’ll turn up a listing of labs in the Boston area that you could potentially reach out to inquiring about a co-op. Talk with your CO-OP + CAREER Advisor on the best ways to conduct direct outreach. Students find their co-ops in this way all the time!

Pro Tip: Write a statement of interest (which isn’t quite like a cover letter) describing your interest in their research and how you would be a good fit for their lab. Focus more on the interesting bit. (Duh).

In the realm of non-profits, students should also consider free-standing research institutions. For example, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (aka WHOI) is a leader in the world of ocean science and policy. They cover a variety of research areas and they literally have a page where you can look up all the different labs (which you can then click into and find out who runs them).

WHOI hosts Wentworth students on co-op every year and the best way to find an opportunity is to reach out directly to the labs in which you are interested in conducting research.

Pro Tip: Sometimes these institutions have formal applications processes for co-ops/interns. Sometimes they don’t. I always recommend you CALL AND ASK. It won’t hurt to pick up the phone and inquire about the best method for application.

For those students that would prefer to stay a bit closer to home or just plain like working with one of their professors at Wentworth – many departments on-campus will support academic research for co-op. Of course, they would much prefer you went off-campus to get a new experience, but many students interested in pursuing graduate school have elected to stay on-campus to do research with a professor.

Pro Tip: You don’t need to make this experience a co-op. You can do it on your own during any academic semester! But if you want to make it a co-op, use this handout to inquire about and secure opportunities at Wentworth.

Whatever you choose, undergraduate research can be a highly rewarding experience. It is so important for graduate school (master’s programs with thesis-based requirements and PhD programs). And, if you can get a publication out of your research experience, well that is just icing on the cake.

So, you want to go to graduate school…

By: Lauren Creamer

More and more students these days are telling me they want to go to graduate school. And they’re saying it earlier on in their collegiate careers. Before you jump on the grad school bandwagon, it’s important to a) ask yourself some critical questions, and b) have a plan of action. It’s a lot of work, but well worth it, if you know where you want to go next. Use the guide below to get started. And, as always, reach out to you CO-OP + CAREER Advisor for help!

Questions to Ask BEFORE You Begin:
• What do you want to go to grad school for? Master’s? PhD?
• Do you want to go into industry after OR do you want to teach?
• Why do you want to go to graduate school at all?
• Do you want to go immediately? Or work for a few years?
• How long do you want to be in school? One year? Two years? Five+ years?
• Where do you want to be? Does it matter?
• What schools offer your desired program(s) of study in your preferred location?

Action Steps to Take:
• Make a list of those schools, including program directors/coordinators and contact info.
• Make an outreach plan and conduct outreach – ask thoughtful questions, show interest.
• Rank programs. Know their requirements. Work backwards from their deadlines.
• Prepare for and take the GRE. (Or whatever other standardized test the program(s) require).
• Connect with faculty mentors to get their advice on selecting schools and the application process. (They once went through the same process!).
• Connect with your CO-OP + CAREER Advisor re: logistics for applying and writing your personal statement. (This is often more work than you might think!).
• Do you need to submit a skill-based resume or a CV? Don’t know the difference? See your CO-OP + CAREER Advisor!
• Begin applications and submit materials by deadlines.
• Prepare for program interviews. (This is a great time to loop back around with your faculty mentor).
• Review offers and accept at the program which is the best fit for you!
• OR defer acceptance until you are ready. (You never know, plans could change!).