While the world was set in a holding pattern this summer, the Princeton Startup Immersion Program (PSIP) students worked across time-zones, oceans, and borders in a remote version of a global internship.
Initially, the cohort and administrators were unsure that the remote work environment would produce the relationships, skill-building opportunities, and impactful knowledge that an in-person experience creates. However, the interns' willingness and open-minded attitudes, the working outside the box tenacity of the program administrators, and the determination and commitment of the internship hosts produced very successful results. "Our host companies are a generous and engaged group of emerging startups who are dedicated to helping the next generation of entrepreneurs," explained PSIP program manager Lilian Tsang. She expressed her gratitude for their partnership in bringing a real-world experience to Princeton students during the pandemic, "Their versatile nature and innovative spirit were essential to PSIP 2020's success."
Amichai Feit, a junior in economics, was a business development intern at Monday.com, located in Tel Aviv. He found the remote internship to be an enriching and constructive experience. "I was able to realize many of the goals I had in mind for this summer: improving my professional skills, taking charge of impactful projects, developing new relationships with mentors and friends, and yes, having fun!"
He admits that working remotely certainly presented challenges. However, his supervisor made sure he felt part of the team, met a wide range of people, and, most importantly, contributed meaningful work to the company. His supervisor Omry Sitner felt their company was fully prepared to provide a valuable remote internship, "Our product is a platform which allows teams to work better together, no matter where they are located, so we had a culture and system in place to support a positive internship experience." Sitner, who is the company's academic partnership lead, made sure there was time during the summer for Amichai and his team to develop a personal connection, "We put a lot of emphasis on personal conversations - in every meeting we had, we spent time talking on a personal level, getting to know each other and just talking about life. I feel like this has helped tremendously in creating a better connection and nurturing teamwork."
Feit says he feels the lasting impact of the experience and the relationships he built this summer already, "Due to the pandemic I have decided to take a gap year, something I never imagined would be part of my Princeton experience. However, knowing I could continue my work at Monday.com made the decision feel more productive and positive." Sitner also sees the benefit of Feit's internship, "We were able to work with a really talented person, who gave us a fresh set of eyes and opinions, and who was really impact-driven. I fully believe that a remote internship can be just as valuable an experience as an in-person one."
With her internship host Laiye in Shanghai, junior Ishani Kulkarni was concerned that communication, team building, and her ability to contribute useful work would be hampered by having a remote internship. "Even with a large time-zone difference, my supervisor and colleagues made sure I felt like I was part of the team and that my work was valued," said Kulkarni. Working as a pre-sale associate with a robotic process automation and artificial intelligence emerging startup, Kulkarni developed organizational and efficiency skills and gained a clear understanding of the hard work, time, and commitment required for a startup company to thrive.
One important aspect of an internship is relationship building, but working closely with fellow interns and bonding over shared experiences is somewhat difficult remotely. Kulkarni and her fellow Laiye intern, sophomore Sophie Li, managed to become close friends even though they were on opposite coasts all summer. "We met and worked together on zoom every day to simulate a work environment. It helped to develop the feeling of being on a team. I always looked forward to our calls because they provided both motivation and some much needed social time during the generally lonely period of quarantine." Li felt equally grateful for the support and company. "It was a joy to see Ishani every morning. By talking about our work with one another, we helped keep each other sane in these trying times."
Electrical engineering major junior Matthew Collins had a somewhat unexpected global internship experience. Collins was planning on spending his summer living and working in New York City interning for a blockchain startup. In stark contrast to the anticipated hustle and bustle of city life, Collins spent his summer baking bread with his family, biking through the countryside, and working as a software developer at BlockApps from his small tranquil hometown in Northern Ireland.
"Even though I was over three thousand miles away from the BlockApps office, I was able to work closely with the team and immerse myself in assignments which enhanced my knowledge and skills as a software developer." Collins was impressed with his advisors' seamless communication, the company's integration of remote working platforms, and their unique feeling of inclusion and trust. "I was given tasks that directly impacted the company's wellbeing, and I felt the importance of my contributions. Whether my laptop was on a desk in a NY office or in my bedroom in Northern Ireland, the experience of each day's hard work was equally satisfying."
Concerns that students might feel relegated to "standalone" work because of being remote were anticipated by Tsang and PSIP coordinator Manda Ryan. But what they found was that the employers adjusted meetings to account for time-zone differences and intentionally found integrated projects that required interns to reach out to team members from all parts of the company. Because of this approach, students felt included, welcomed, and valued. "Our internship host companies went above and beyond to provide impactful work as well as a team experience that is integral to a PSIP internship," said Ryan.
The PSIP internship applications for summer 2021 open on October 23rd, and although we cannot know at this time whether the experience will be in-person or remote, we do know that it will be an opportunity to gain valuable skills, contribute your talents, build lasting relationships and, yes, have fun!