5 Takeaways as a Smithsonian Science for Global Goals Intern

Just a few months ago, I was scouring the Internet as a high school senior, trying to find a way to spend my summer before starting my freshman year of college. I have always been drawn to the Smithsonian, from its thriving museums and centers that share ideas to the expansive network of researchers creating new knowledge. I knew I wanted to contribute to this amazing community before I left the greater Washington D.C. Area.

I was thrilled to participate as a summer intern with the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC). Now that my internship is drawing to an end (sadly!) I have five takeaways I learned from my experience as a Smithsonian Science for Global Goals intern working on the Biotechnology! community research guide. Whether you’re an aspiring SSEC intern, incoming college freshman, or anywhere in between, I hope this can be helpful.

1. Try something new.

Exploring unexplored interests can be exciting yet nerve-wracking. Before SSEC, I had done work in STEM education, lab research, public speaking, and writing. But I had never really had an experience that tied my interdisciplinary interests together. In joining the Smithsonian Science for Global Goals Team, I could simultaneously explore the field of STEM curriculum development while also diving into new topics like biotechnology in agriculture and the environment that I might have never thought to explore. My nervousness in this uncharted territory was alleviated by the fact that my life will probably only get busier from here on out; if not now, when?

2. Do your background research.

Ever see something and go, “Wow, I have no idea what this is?” That was me pretty much every day during my internship! But only because I was discovering so much new information each day. I found that in order to translate high level material into the simplified language needed for student-facing materials, you must first become a high level expert yourself. Know that it’s okay if you don’t know things now, but take notes and stockpile resources along the way. You’ll thank yourself later!

3. Diverse teamwork makes the dream work.

Diversity of backgrounds and ideas makes a concept stronger. While researching a part of the Biotechnology! guide on the environment, I had an unforgettable discussion with Smithsonian researcher and coral expert Dr. Mary Hagedorn. She used the example of diversity in humans as a tool to help students understand the importance of biodiversity in ecosystems. Differences in backgrounds and ideas make a society stronger, just like biodiversity makes an ecosystem stronger. A simple concept, sure, but it’s true!

As I worked with other interns from around the United States and the globe, I got to hear perspectives that I had never heard before. This helped make my work more inclusive and thoughtful. I always walked away from each brainstorming session having gone a step further conceptually and learned something new.

4. Thinking takes time.

Nevertheless, there will be a period where you’re trying to find a clear path within all the wonderful ideas you have. Attending a staff Lesson Jam, which is a brainstorming session where all of SSEC comes together to hash out a specific idea, illustrated this process to me. For 30 minutes, a group of highly-educated adults talked about everything from the solubility of Kool-Aid to what scenario we should use for a math problem. Although we didn’t pin down one idea at the end, I’m confident that that conversation helped create the final product, and I had a lot of fun. Brainstorming can be a worthwhile challenge that you don’t have to tackle on your own.

5. Enjoy the process!

I will never forget the camaraderie that happened in between the lines during SSEC: diving into tangents on carbon sequestration and cloning in a one-on-one advisor meeting; bonding over high school life in an intern hangout after work; and fellow interns hyping each other up for our individual successes. While I may have had a lot going on this summer (working, moving, and the pre-frosh grind included) I always looked forward to anything SSEC related. Every connection I made has shaped me into someone who will continue to discover, understand, and act for a lifetime.