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Transitioning from Student to Employee

By Morgan Packer | Wednesday, December 19, 2012

At university, your life is somewhat unformatted — you attend class here and there, study in the library, and try to fill in the rest of your time with student organizations and other activities. In class, you are allowed to ask questions, make mistakes, and grow from your experience. This makes the transition between student-life and work-life somewhat startling as you must become responsible for yourself and your mistakes, and embrace the ramifications of failure. Time is not necessarily your own to organize, at least between 9 and 5. Suddenly, you’ve stepped foot outside of the classroom, and there is the assumption that the learning stops and the education that you’ve paid $150,000+ for starts to be implemented. That is what an employer pays its employees for, right? 

Wrong. Every day working as a six month co-op student at IHI, I have learned something new. At IHI, whether you are a co-op, a project manager, a director, or an executive, you are always an individual who is free to learn and make mistakes, and whose contributions are truly valued. In past jobs, I have always been the intern. Coffee runs, unnecessary work, copies, permission to send emails, constant monitoring, filing, checking, doubting. At IHI, I became a resource. Suddenly I was learning again.  

As a student, I have made my fair share of mistakes. I wrote in an email regarding travel arrangements to a colleague in India that one of our staff would be flying to Bombay and another staff member to Mumbai without realizing that they are in fact the same city. I misheard one of the executives at IHI that he was talking about an “underwear story” when in fact he was talking about an airplane story — and asked him about it. I wrote a formal email in French and translated the literal version of “dear” to cher, a term used to address a very personal friend rather than Monsieur or Madame.  

As an employee, I have learned. Working as a Project Assistant at IHI has helped me transition from my role as “student” to my future in the professional world. I have learned from my experience here to be confident, to investigate, and to be a team member simultaneously while being a self-sufficient individual. I have grown from my mistakes, and moved past the fears that occupied me as a student. Instead of being labeled as a student intern, I am an employee. I help research new projects, organize international communication, conduct informational scans, translate, arrange event logistics, process reimbursements. While the work I do is may at times be far removed from a hospital bed or board room, my small contribution helps IHI achieve its mission a little faster and a little more easily.

I am not sure what I would have done if it was not for the co-op program at Northeastern. How would I have learned before my first job something as simple as how to write a formal email? It may seem simple and obvious at this point, but think back to the first email you ever wrote at work. It was not easy, was it? That first phone call you ever took, first meeting, first project that you finished and turned in for review. Entering the workplace can be downright frightening, and I am not sure how I would have learned about work culture if it was not a part of my education.

At IHI, I feel safe. Safe to make mistakes and learn from them, safe to try new things, safe to succeed. The idea of IHI as a quality improvement organization is to provide a safe environment where mistakes can be made, and you learn to grow from them. Sounds a lot like school to me.   

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