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COVID-19 reshapes students’ summer plans

Students’ internships, research projects, travel plans shift in light of the pandemic

Earlier this year, Ryan Silverman ’23 had planned to spend his summer conducting research supported by his Undergraduate and Teaching Research Award. But due to restrictions posed by COVID-19, his research project in a bioelectronic lab quickly became infeasible.

Instead, following the cancellation of his research this summer, Silverman will do manufacturing work in an elastic string factory.

"There's a lot of uncertainty right now," he said. "Everyone just wants certain answers but no one could give them.”

For many students, the end of finals and the start of summer typically means the start of internships or jobs, research projects or other opportunities that may serve as a step toward post-graduate employment or further education. But like many other things, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended summer opportunities — at worst, forcing program cancellations and otherwise necessitating shifts in the programs’ formats — leaving many students uncertain about the shape of their summer plans.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, Zixi Zhu ’20 planned to spend her summer in Providence as a student venture founder participating in the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship’s Breakthrough Lab, an eight-week accelerator program that supports student entrepreneurs developing high-impact ventures. But in April, Zhu learned that B-Lab would be held virtually this summer.

While glad that the program is still happening, Zhu expressed disappointment about losing an in-person experience that would promote collaboration and inspiration. "For me, the frustrating thing is that the co-working space is not happening anymore, which is one of the main reasons I wanted to apply to B-Lab," she said. "I would want to have a community and have a desk somewhere that's not in my bedroom.”

Nishanth Kumar '21 has also had to adjust his travel and internship plans in light of the pandemic. While his internship with Uber Advanced Technologies Group in Toronto has been moved online, Kumar said he feels fortunate that the internship was not canceled and that he will receive the same employment benefits.

But after his internship, Kumar planned to travel home to India to unite with his family, a plan that is no longer possible due to international travel restrictions.

The fallout of the pandemic has also made Kumar think more about his post-graduate plans and consider graduate school as “more of a likely option.”

Artificial intelligence “technologies could have been used much more in this crisis to help people," he said. "I think that's been very interesting and am excited to continue with the research in the field to help with things like this in the future."

Lisa Li ’23 first interviewed for a health consulting agency based in Beijing in January, but she did not definitively find out whether or not she had been hired until May. When the company moved off-site in April, the company told Li, who has returned home to Beijing, that it was still actively considering her, she said.

But as the threat of the novel coronavirus’ spread in China died down in the spring, Li said she finally heard from the company that they had hired two remote interns, but could not take on a third intern to work on-site.

With no official internship position set up for the summer, Li said she plans to develop her skill set by taking online courses, beginning to prepare for standardized testing post-graduate requirements and looking into social science research opportunities. She applied for a faculty research SPRINT award sponsored by CareerLab, and has yet to hear back.

She noted how several of her friends who find themselves in similar situations — with no official plans for the summer — have dedicated themselves to working on collaborative projects that are “interesting” and have “an impact,” such as podcasts discussing international politics and individual activism in support of the ongoing protests against anti-Black police brutality and racism in the United States.

John Wrenn MS’18 PhD’21, who will conduct research in computer science this summer, discussed the potential changes and challenges he may face in facilitating that research in light of the pandemic. Wrenn said that the research will still take place, either in person or remotely, and his team still plans to hire more undergraduate research assistants.

But his concern lies largely in the impact social distancing measures will have on a collaborative work environment. "The (Computing and Information Services building) continues to be pretty empty this summer," he said. "We might still be able to get the work half … done; it's just … everything else that makes the work much more pleasant to do."

Emily Belt '22 planned to spend her summer in Boston while participating in the Diverse Investors Student Experience program at Fidelity Investments, a 10-week internship designed to help college sophomores develop skills needed to work in the financial service industry. But a few weeks ago, Belt received a notification from the program informing her that it would be held remotely and for one week shorter. Luckily for her, the program maintained that despite moving to a remote format, she will be paid the same rate, work on similar projects and receive the same benefits.

Still, Belt said that she is disappointed that she won’t be able to work with other student participants in an office setting. "I think it's really nice to be able to work with students your age … because we are learning at the same time," she said, adding that doing the program remotely means she won’t have the opportunity to explore Boston with her peers after a day at work.

Belt added that the virtual format of the program also limits opportunities to network with other colleagues and senior staffers, and working at home can be a more isolating experience.

Overall, Belt said that the public health and economic crisis has changed her outlook on how she approaches life. Coming out of the pandemic, she said she wants to "just not ... take anything for granted and take more chances. You never know when all the things you cherish are going to be taken away. It makes me want to live my life more meaningfully when I'm out of quarantine."

Kayla Guo contributed additional reporting



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