Ready for some more ways to spend your summer?
In our last blog post, we went over how planning out your next few years minimizes burnout and allows you to start your academic year with minimal stress. We also discussed how preparing for assessments such as the CASPer Test and the MCAT and developing skills through skills-based courses are all great uses of your time.
In this post, we’ll explore some ways to spend your summer that allow for more professional development. We’re going to discuss…
- Summer Internships
- Research Opportunities
- Starting Your Own Business
Let’s dive in!
There’s a reason why high schools across Canada require their students to complete a set number of volunteer hours before graduation. There are so many benefits to volunteering! The most obvious one is that you get to give back to and engage with your community in ways that you otherwise may not.
Volunteering is important for your own personal development as well. Your experiences help you develop and refine valuable soft skills such as creative problem solving, time management, leadership, and communication skills. You can seek out volunteer experiences that relate to your desired career path if you want to get a low-stakes taste of your future industry or you could volunteer in unrelated areas. There are benefits to both kinds of volunteering:
Volunteer work related to your desired career path
Volunteer work unrelated to your desired career path
How do you find volunteer experiences that interest you?
- Check out your local library. They generally post volunteer opportunities on their website and might even have posters displayed at the library that advertise events or recruit volunteers.
- Visit websites such as Volunteer Ottawa, Volunteer Toronto, or Charity Village and browse their databases of volunteer opportunities that match your interests and any required skill set.
- If there’s nothing out there that catches your eye, you can decide to directly provide a service, such as free tutoring or piano lessons, to your community. You can advertise this on the websites mentioned above and post flyers in community centres, grocery stores and sports complexes across the city. You could even spread the word through your various social media channels.
If there are any non-profits that interest you, you can also visit their website to check whether they’re looking for volunteers or advertising for other organizations that are seeking support. Here are some examples:
- Pillar Non-Profit Network has a comprehensive list of volunteer opportunities throughout their community.
- ACORN is a great non-profit that’s always looking for volunteers (here’s their volunteer intake form).
- Habitat for Humanity is also currently looking for volunteers!
You might be wondering: how do I choose the best volunteer opportunities for myself? This requires a strategic and highly personalized approach. For starters, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and consider the following questions:
- What skills can I leverage and what skills do I need to work on improving?
- What skills are important for the career I plan to pursue?
- What skills will also help me achieve personal growth?
Once these have been identified, you can browse through the available opportunities (or create your own!) and decide how they can help you challenge yourself, develop personally, and grow professionally. It’s also important to question whether the volunteer opportunity will allow for growth within the organization or at least allow you to attain a higher role within a different organization in the future. This long-term approach will help ensure that you’re consistently working toward your goals.
While it’s important to gain exposure to your future career field, it’s also valuable to pursue volunteer roles that you’re passionate about even if they’re not directly related to your desired career path. This will make your experience more enjoyable and it’ll help you stand out from other applicants.
Summer internships are another low-risk way of exploring a field that interests you. Internships only last for a few months, so there’s no long-term commitment. You get a little taste and, based on your experiences in that duration, you can assess whether the particular field is the right fit for you.
If you’re interested in working more in the particular industry, then great! You ‘ve got your foot in the door and you’ve made some industry connections. Keep in mind that some employers also use their pool of interns as a recruitment pool. They take note of interns who impressed them and might offer them long-term work at the end of the internship. They may also keep your information on file and contact you if relevant positions open up in the future.
If your internship experience makes you realize that a particular field is not as interesting as you may have initially thought, then that’s also great! It’s much better to figure this out now than it is to find out several years down the line. The internship would act as a valuable learning opportunity that will help you better narrow your career choices. Meanwhile, you would have avoided the complicated application process and expensive fees of a program that you otherwise would not have liked.
An internship is also a safe space to test out skills and theories you studied in your coursework while gaining hands-on experience. Companies recognize that interns generally have little to no prior industry experience. They understand that you’re still learning and the industry professionals you’re working with are ready to give constructive feedback to help you grow.
They don’t expect you to be an expert at this stage, so this is a great space to make mistakes and ask questions without worrying about your reputation or job performance. Internships are designed to teach, and mistakes are a natural part of learning!
Internships also provide a great networking environment. You have the opportunity to make connections with like-minded professionals. Through this network, you can learn about all kinds of professional positions down the line. The people you work with during your internships also make phenomenal references for future applications. They have first-hand experience working with you and can answer specific questions about your work ethic, enthusiasm, and the skills you develop over the course of your internship.
Research is a great way to spend your summer, especially if your goal is medical school or a science-based post-graduate program. While it typically isn’t a requirement for admission, it’s still a great experience that bolsters your application and prepares you for many rigorous programs.
Research experience helps you develop a variety of skills, including:
- Problem solving
- Scientific writing
Finding a relevant research experience is often the most difficult part of the process. Here are a few suggestions:
- Contact the director of undergraduate studies in the department of your intended major. They often know of faculty members who are undertaking research in a specific scientific area.
- Visit departmental websites where you’ll find a list of faculty members and their research interests. They might also provide the number of undergraduate students they mentor at one time as well as any open positions at their lab.
- Talk to your course instructors, especially those whose courses you enjoyed. They might have opportunities available at their lab or they might connect you with other faculty members looking for undergraduate researchers.
- Attend events that promote undergraduate research (such as Western University’s health and rehabilitation sciences conference on evolution and innovation). Use them as networking opportunities to talk to students about their research experiences and any attending faculty about their research.
- Visit your university’s career centre to find off-campus research internships.
Start a Business
You aren’t limited by only pursuing opportunities you can find. If you can’t find something that interests you or that you think you would benefit and grow from, why not create your own?
Starting a business is a great way of challenging yourself. It demonstrates your initiative and, through the experience, you’re sure to develop and refine a host of skills, such as leadership, creative problem solving, and communication.
You might think that starting a business when you’re still in school is a little too soon, but the business doesn’t have to be complex or consume all of your time. It can be a simple idea that somehow fills a societal need, and it can even give you the opportunity to apply your studies to the real world.
Besides, as a student, you have access to peers with whom you can work to achieve your business goals. Your peers on campus can also serve as your client base. You even have access to a variety of free resources that aren’t otherwise easily accessible, such as a stable internet connection, meeting rooms, and professors who are willing to impart advice.
Looking for tips on how to start a business? Here are a few ways:
- Contact successful entrepreneurs and inquire about how they got started. They’re generally happy to impart advice to the younger generation of entrepreneurs.
- Join business networks like Next36 to get access to business mentors who will help you build and enhance your business.
- Apply to the University of Delaware’s Horn Entrepreneurship: The Diamond Challenge which gives high school students the opportunity to develop solutions to world problems.
As an entrepreneur, you’ll need to seek out funding to support your goals. Here are a few ideas:
- Apply for government grants, whether provincial (such as the Ontario summer company program for students) or federal.
- Set up GoFundMe or Kickstarter campaigns.
- Get creative with your fundraising by completing commissions for artwork or creative writing projects.
That’s all the advice we have for you today!
If you need any support in deciding how to spend your summer, contact us! We’re ready to help you identify the most effective ways of spending these months ahead of you. Whatever your academic goals may be, our pre-application planning will help you identify the key opportunities to get you ahead of the competition.
However you choose to spend your summer, we hope you enjoy the opportunities for growth that it brings and wish you the best of luck!