Earlier this year, we decided to hire two Project Onramp summer interns for Corval, our new startup. First, because we needed the help (!) and second, because we are committed to walking the talk of this important Life Science Cares program.

(Project Onramp creates paid summer internships for Massachusetts college students who are under-resourced and often first generation, helping to bridge the opportunity gap for these promising young people.)

A startup is a great way for young people to experience the sometimes messy, often thrilling, endlessly challenging chaos that greets us each day.

It wasn’t long that we decided to bring on a third summer intern, this one on The NemetzGroup side of the house. Unlike the other two, he came to us the old-fashioned way — he’s the child of one of our senior leaders! Having done this kind of thing before, I know that insight into what one’s parents really do all day pays dividends, professionally and personally.

We knew as well that by having three interns of similar age (all rising college juniors) but dissimilar backgrounds, they could learn from one another and appreciate the lens through which they were viewing this shared experience.

So, what was learned? Lots, by both the interns and by all of us (the “adults” in the room, or in this case, Zoom). More on those specifics below, but it seems the overall theme was one of “showing up”:

We showed up by teaching and sharing as much of our life and work experience as we could. They showed up by being present every day, caring deeply about the work, and infusing us with energy, purpose, and a renewed appreciation for what it means to be part of the exciting biopharma world we all inhabit.

What the Interns Learned

At the end of the summer, we asked each of the interns to give a presentation to the company on their experience, what they did, and what they learned. Here is some of what was shared…

“There are lots of tools involved behind the scenes.”

Our interns rolled up their sleeves and dove deep into HubSpot, Excel, Smartsheet, and LinkedIn, all in the service of getting the work done. That included building out a CRM, developing a vendor database, auditing and organizing data sets, managing product updates, social media advertising, and more.

“Before the summer, I didn’t really know what I liked or wanted to do.”

One intern discovered a keen interest in working with data (“It’s like putting pieces of a puzzle together.”) Another decided he now wants to pursue marketing as a career. A third found working in a biopharma startup much more interesting than a previous internship in a large financial institution. Overall, the hands-on, day-to-day experience provided a great deal of clarity for future career choices.

“It felt good to be part of a close-knit team and to do work that made a difference.”

More than one intern expressed (happy) surprise at how open and accessible the other team members were – at all levels. As one intern said, “The first time Sue called me out of the blue, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s how it works here!’”

They also appreciated having meaningful work to do. Beyond the resume-building benefits of an internship, they were glad to have made a tangible contribution to the success of the projects with which they were involved.

“I learned a lot about communication and its importance.”

The group benefited from exposure to how professional communication works, whether in group sessions, presentations, or one-on-one with colleagues. One intern mentioned learning how to “disagree in a professional manner.” Another cited how it felt to receive feedback on his work. All three agreed that learning to network was vital as an information-gathering and career-enhancing tool.

In a remote environment (all the interns worked from home), there was a keen awareness of the benefits of a strong communication methodology, both in terms of tech tools used (e.g., Slack, email, Zoom) and the organizational structure itself (e.g., frequent check-ins, daily project team calls).

As for advice that the group would now give to their “pre-summer selves,” this comment seemed to sum things up nicely: “Meet lots of people, ask lots of questions, keep requesting more work, and don’t be shy about asking for help when you need it.”

What We Learned

We decided to conduct a cross-company summer series for the interns to “teach” them some of the principles of what we do. This included:

  • An overview of commercialization in biopharma
  • Marketing in a digitally connected world
  • Building a product and prioritizing customer input
  • Lean startups and agility — what does this really mean?

This “showing up” experience was as valuable to us as it was to the interns. As we all know, synthesizing and teaching a complex topic requires taking a fresh look with “beginner’s eyes,” as well as deep thought into what really matters and what doesn’t. Our summer sessions were no exception.

Further, our “intern experience” this summer reminded us of the importance of being present, caring about what happens, and, maybe most essential, being generous in sharing knowledge across disciplines. In our case, with an established commercialization and executive strategy business on one side, and a fast-paced, tech-centric startup on the other, the diversity of learning between these two parts was invaluable for all concerned (this may apply in your work life, too).

Additional thoughts from the group:

“Helping others in a mentoring way is so fulfilling.”

“Young people need exposure to work to understand work.”

“Internship programs do need structure, follow-up, and accountability.”

“Even when we think we are communicating, if we are speaking a language of seasoned professionals vs. the language of college students, much is lost in translation.”

“When working remotely with interns, in particular, you have to make a concerted effort to communicate, reach out, check-in. Structure really matters.”

“Boldness is appreciated!”

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, we were all so impressed and proud of these young people.

They understand that “showing up,” doing quality work, and contributing to the team, makes all the difference in the work product. Even more important, it makes a difference in what they each took away from the experience.