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“An in-between period”: Students adapt summer plans to uncertainties of COVID-19

May 7, 2021

Juggling Handshake appointments, cover letters and interviews on top of an already-packed course load, students often struggle to keep up during internship application season, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only added another layer of complexity to the process. However, despite setbacks and difficulties, Bowdoin students and staff have found creative ways to adapt their summer plans to the uncertainties of the pandemic.

Executive Director of Career Exploration and Development (CXD) Kristin Brennan and Associate Director at the McKeen Center Tom Ancona said that despite uncertainties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of applicants for summer funding through the College remained relatively steady this year and even increased for some programs.

“It’s been pretty incredible how creative people have been and what they’ve come up with to submit,” Brennan said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “I would say [applications] are just as high quality as they’ve ever been.”

Between the McKeen Center’s funded fellowship programs and CXD’s internship grants, nearly 150 students will receive funding from the College to pursue summer opportunities this year. Of these, Ancona noted that there was a noticeable increase in interest for on-campus positions.

“I think there was sort of a draw to [these fellowships] being in-person, especially once summer housing became an option,” Ancona said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “I think there’s a tremendous amount of excitement to be on-campus and have a more normal Bowdoin summer.”

For Justis Dixon ’23, who will be working in Topsham this summer as a Bowdoin Public Service in Maine fellow, living in Maine and pursuing an in-person opportunity was a priority.

“One thing that I was focusing on for the summer [was] having an in-person [internship] experience,” Dixon said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “I preferred to be [in] Maine because I think it would be safer in terms of COVID[-19].”

The pandemic has shifted students’ summer plans in other ways as well. For Annie Mahoney ’23, who will be working at a French-language camp in the San Juan Islands in Washington state this summer, fatigue from the virtual school year led her to seek opportunities away from the computer screen.

“I’m going to Zoom class every day, [and] I’m already spending a lot of time online,” Mahoney said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “Interviewing and researching stuff is just one more thing to be doing … [So], I wasn’t trying to apply to a million things because I knew I wouldn’t want to do a ton of interviews all online.”

In addition to the difficulty of searching for a job remotely, students have also had to navigate the challenges of a volatile job market. For industries hit particularly hard by social distancing measures last year, recovery has been uneven.

“While businesses come back faster, some of the arts and media jobs are still really hard [to bring back],” Brennan said. “Nonprofits [also] feel the delayed effects of people not having as much money to give.”

As a result of the uncertainty in these sectors, some students have struggled to find opportunities during the typical hiring window.

“Organizations, especially nonprofits, are dealing with the same uncertainty we are,” Ancona said. “[So] it’s tough for them to make a decision in February and March about summer internships.”

Despite the toll the pandemic has taken on both students and employers, Brennan sees a silver lining in the resilience of Bowdoin’s alumni network.

“I have not seen this kind of alum loyalty and commitment and interest in really helping—it’s singular to Bowdoin,” Brennan said. “Alums are just really willing to talk to people, they get that it’s hard out there.”

Still, in a year of heightened volatility, Brennan also acknowledges the difficulties caused by the pandemic. For students frustrated by the overwhelming workload, Brennan emphasized the importance of slowing down and practicing self-compassion.

“It’s a lot to deal with, for students to be searching for a job or an internship in the middle of all of these other stressors. And it’s always a lot, but it’s particularly a lot right now,” Brennan said. “It’s very easy for us to look at a friend and say, ‘Take a break—take a walk with me, let’s talk about it, it’s going to be okay.’ And we don’t do that for ourselves in the same way. So I feel like any conversation about what’s happening right now jobs and internships, it’s important that it starts with having some compassion for yourself.”


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