Today is a huge day for me–I am starting to volunteer with the Registered Dietitians at the local hospital! I am so excited. I thought it would be fitting to share some of the same advice that got me to where I am today (read: the advice that lit a fire under me to get my stuff together).
Early this summer, I found the contact page for the dietetic internships that I plan to apply for after I finish my undergraduate degree in Clinical Nutrition. I was super surprised to find that the interns all had an email address (provided through the various institutions). So, I emailed the girls who had gone through undergraduate programs I was looking at.
Even more surprising? They got back to me in less than a day. They were very kind, helpful, and full of lovely advice. Here are a few pieces that I especially took to heart.
1. Get as much work and volunteer experience in your field as you can.
Not only is experience something great for your résumé and college apps, but it helps you to choose what you really want to do. For instance, I am not sure if I ultimately want to work in a more clinical setting or do something more community nutrition-related. I am looking forward to this volunteer work as a great way of seeing how much I like working in hospitals and with patients. My next step is to set up some job shadows or informational interviews with dietitians in local community outreach positions–working at grocery stores, nutrition assistance programs, schools, and the local food bank.
Really, it’s because I talked to people who had gotten to where I wanted to be that I got an inkling of just how important these experiences are. The great thing? You can do the same no matter where you are in education and no matter your major. Journalism and English students can write for school papers and magazines. Aspiring teachers can get involved outside of the classroom as tutors (volunteer or paid) or work at after school programs–AmeriCorps offers some of these programs which just require a year-long commitment. Even engineering students can get experience–get involved in your school’s switch to solar (or another sustainable energy source).
There are a thousand great opportunities once you know where to look, so ask people who are now where you want to be in five years: What are the best volunteer opportunities you’ve taken advantage of?
Everything you try will be a powerful learning experience and an indication of what direction you may want to pursue in your future career.
2. Major-related clubs are great for learning and networking.
At the undergraduate level, there are some great clubs for anyone to get involved in. But in perusing my dream school’s club list, I was attracted to the nutrition-related clubs. I specifically asked a few of the interns about the Student Nutrition Association, and I was assured it was a great way to meet people. The students who would be in my classes (as a transfer, this is important to me), professors in my major, and members of the nutrition and food systems communities.
You, too, can find out about clubs, even if you aren’t at your dream school yet. Actually, this is an exercise I really recommend to the high school students out there. If you think you know what you want to do, see what your school has to offer for extracurriculars.
The first time around applying to colleges, one of the private universities I applied to had an essay prompt asking what clubs and extracurricular groups I would belong to to enrich the school. I spent hours reading about clubs and groups, trying to figure out what I would want to do with my college experience at that school. And I ended up doing that for all the schools I applied to, since it was so inspiring. That’s how I found out about the SNA at UC Davis.
Take a look at what your school offers, beyond classes and night life. What is the community like? What is the coolest sounding club or project?
3. It’s worth it, but be prepared to work hard.
The girls I corresponded with were not shy about the work load–40 hours a week, plus lectures and projects. Not everyone’s idea of a great way to spend your first year out of college in an unpaid internship. I have been assured that it is totally worth it, and I believe it. This is my dream, and dreams aren’t just pixie dust.
So far, all I can credibly talk about are difficult classes, but I know that internships and that first job out of school will be hard for all of us, but I have faith that we will triumph. We’re strong, we’re smart, and we’re gonna run the world some day–don’t forget it.
Start looking into what you need to learn after you finish up your (first) degree–do you need to get a Master’s or a certification? Is there a license you need? Find out and prepare yourself to excel.