It’s a prime move, perhaps even more so during a global pandemic.
I loved university, but taking a semester off was worth it many times over. I attended MIT in Cambridge, and I took my junior spring off to intern at Apple Health AI across the country in Seattle. Here are seven reasons why my decision to leave college for a season was one of the best I’ve made.
- Doing something spontaneous or uncomfortable
Before taking a semester off, moving to Boston for college from the suburbs of Georgia was the most adventurous thing I’d done. While at university, I found that the college experience, however amazing, is quite structured. Days consist of classes, homework, studying, and time with friends, where the order in which they happen is the sole changing variable. I got too comfortable, itching to do more than just be a student.
Many young twenty-somethings have lauded the benefits of spending time devoted to understanding oneself and pursuing passion projects. While I wished that I was daring enough to take such a leap, the security of a full-time job in corporate America kept me focused on studying hard to land big tech internships every summer. When a surprise opportunity presented itself in the last month of my junior fall to take the following spring off to intern, I took it, but with hesitation. Indeed, it seemed like the perfect in-between of two extremes, staying at school and leaving for a bit to pursue bigger dreams like becoming an entrepreneur. But I was at odds with myself about why the idea of leaving MIT — one of the best engineering institutions in the world — appealed to me, and I was apprehensive about moving away from my friends and to a new city.
In the end, the desire for new experiences and to do something spontaneous propelled me to take the internship offer. I reasoned that the very act of doing something I wasn’t sure about — building a social life as the only intern on a team of industry researchers — would be good for me. Most definitely, it was.
Visiting tulip fields in Skagit Valley, WA
- Exploring something in great detail
MIT, at its core, is a research institution. Often times, though, the rigor of classes made it tough to keep up with side research endeavors. Ironically, time away from college was exactly what I needed to finally bring research to the forefront. At Apple, under the guidance of leadingindustry researchers, I worked on modeling patterns of smartphone usage and their relationships with cognitive function. This sparked an interest in time series analysis within machine learning for healthcare, which I pursued for my Master’s thesis.
- Having access to new opportunities for growth
Off-cycle internships are great, largely because there aren’t many (or any) other interns around. At the Seattle satellite office, I was treated as a full-time employee and even had the opportunity to pursue a new research direction in the space of cognitive health. I also attended events I wouldn’t have had access to as a summer intern part of a huge intern class. I volunteered at an internal machine learning summit held at Apple Park in Cupertino, learning about exciting upcoming features and technologies.
At the end of my internship, I was flown toheadquarters to present my work to John Giannandrea, the company’s senior vice president of Machine Learning and AI Strategy. Only a select few interns present to John every season, and being the sole spring intern at the Seattle office whose manager reported directly to him probably helped my case. This was a wonderful experience that contributed to my decision to accept a full-time job offer to be a Machine Learning Engineer at Apple Park.
- Checking out a potential future home city
I landed in Seattle at the beginning of February and left at the end of May. Seattle is especially rainy during the winter and spring, and having just spent a month in India for an MIT initiative, the cold, wet weather shocked my system upon arrival. Quickly though, I grew to love the rain. Seattle is abeautiful city, lush and green with waterways and hillsides dotted withferns and evergreens. My favorite part was the view of Mount Rainier from my desk, on the forty-sixth floor of a skyscraper.
Though I wasn’t in Seattle during its most popular visiting season, geologic reminders of nature’s power and beauty never ceased to make me happy. I hiked, explored, and spent time at enough coffee shops to know that the city would be an amazing place to live post-college, should I land a job there.
Hiking at Discovery Park
- Improving friend-making skills in a new place
I am a quiet and shy person, so making new friends can be a challenge. I took it upon myself to find a social group while in Seattle, and I got really lucky that the team in the adjacent section of the office were some of the most fun-loving people I’ve met. I re-learned how to make introductions and strike up conversations, something I’d last done intently during my first semester of college. I’ll always cherish the good conversations, fancy outings, long drives, and potlucks. The friendships have lasted, too. Whenever I was in the Emerald City for job interviews the following fall, I’d always make sure to schedule time with my favorite Seattleites.
- Practicing how to “adult” before graduation
Time alone in a new city was time to work on myself. Courtesy of corporate housing, I was blessed with a large one-bedroom apartmentdown the street from the Space Needle. Having a place to myself motivated me to establish a good routine. I woke up super early and do core workouts, occasionally ran with a friend at Olympic Sculpture Park, and got into conscious cooking. Except when it was pouring, I walked to and from work every day. I read a bunch, listened to podcasts for the first time (lots of On Purpose with Jay Shetty), ideated for personal projects, and put my mental health first.
- Learning how to maintain great remote communication
The most comforting realization during my time away from MIT was that friends can grow separately without growing apart. Even when the coronavirus pandemic didn’t exist and remote communication for social activities wasn’t the norm, I had several video calls with my friends from university, receiving a spring break visit from a dear friend and a cute picture book in the mail. My flying to MIT to take exams for a single outstanding, required course that spring term also helped with staying in the know about college happenings.
Enjoying drinks at the Seattle waterfront
So much innovation can be born out of this pandemic. The silver lining is that current college students in particular are well-positioned to take advantage of the environment this year has provided — one optimal for testing and launching new ideas and learning by immersion. Tech internship applications, among a wealth of other opportunities, are beginning to open up for the coming fall semester. Students, embrace a growth mindset — let’s go out there and cultivate our skills and qualities through effort and perseverance. The world needs our service and positivity.
I will be hosting sessions on how to optimize your college journey! If interested, please sign up here: https://forms.gle/E65WoaQ6ZfnM5zWw6
-Agni Kumar, MIT 2020, RTC Member