As the summer winds down, I can’t help but be flooded with emotions of disbelief, anxiety, and gratitude. The time has flown faster than I could have anticipated, yet it has been an experience I wouldn’t have traded for the world. The people I’ve met have given me a new perspective on life, and on the world of development. All of this aside, however, I still have a huge project to wrap up and very little time to do it all.
I ended up interviewing 12 peer institutions and representatives from every school, college, and unit at U-M, along with a few donors. While this was possibly my favorite part of the internship, it also means that my work in synthesizing all of this information is certainly cut out for me.
I have been struggling to stay motivated as I peruse hundreds of pages of notes, theme-coding and organizing so my team can understand them once I’m gone. I have also been neck-deep in data that is simultaneously fascinating and maddening. It seems as soon as I think I have it figured out and organized accurately, I discover something new and have to start over again. Thankfully, my team members are extremely knowledgeable and helpful, so I don’t have to do any of it alone.
Through this, I’m learning that leaning on others to get through the tough parts of work is key to success, and that a change of scenery does wonders for the mind. I’m also realizing that no matter how perfect a plan seems at the beginning of a project, there’s a great likelihood that it will change continuously until the end. I did a lot of pre-work to consolidate my notes and pull out themes early on, but as I learned more about my work and the context of development at U-M, I began to realize that my initial thoughts and systems weren’t the most effective for what my team needed. I’m glad that I recognized it, yet it also makes these final weeks feel especially crammed as I re-code and analyze months of interview data.
At the end of the day, the main advice I’d give to someone looking to work in development or participate in D-SIP is to be flexible, adapt readily, and always ask questions. Nothing in my internship, or in life really, went 100% according to plan. There are surprises and caveats everywhere we turn, and it is critical that we learn to move with them instead of fighting against them. I’ve learned that the unexpected twists often lead to greater learning anyway. Keep asking questions because there is always more to learn. If something doesn’t sit right with you, lean into the discomfort and approach it with genuine curiosity. Maybe you’ll realize your concerns were correct, or maybe you’ll gain greater context that points to the contrary. Either way, true understanding of ourselves and our work cannot be achieved without first asking lots of questions.