Moving Beyond the Beaten Path of the Post-College Job Search: Thoughts from a Learning Innovation Intern

This is a guest post by Duke alumnus Shadman Uddin (PPS’18), who was an intern with Duke Learning Innovation in the 2017-2018 academic year. Uddin is a 2018 Venture for America Fellow. 

A nervous and ambitious energy crackled through the Class of 2018 in our last fall at Duke. Instead of socializing and dozing through the start of the academic year as we usually did, my friends and classmates frantically discussed resumes and career mapping. No, this was not just the start of our senior year, this was also the beginning of recruitment season. I was no foreigner to this career sorting, either. At the end of my junior summer internship at the State Department, my manager suggested I look into consulting post-grad. I desired an impressive post-grad career move, and his reasoning that my work habits fit with the role and that the industry could open many doors proved enough justification for me. For the first time in my life, consulting suddenly became a dream job.

After an exciting and rushed conversation with a family friend at McKinsey, I resolved to do whatever necessary to achieve my new goal of landing a consulting gig, and part of that meant obtaining more technical skills and work experience. I began scouring DukeList for opportunities until finding the perfect role in the digital communications internship at Duke’s Learning Innovation. I spoke frankly about my intentions with Courtney Lockemer, my future supervisor, in our interview. She responded with an assurance that spoke volumes to me then, as it still does now, that the entire purpose of the internship was to help prepare Duke students for our futures in the workforce.

Like many of my peers hungry for success, I got frustrated about work experience requirements. But, in reality, experience is often essential for understanding the reality of things. The more experience I gained in consulting recruitment, the more I realized I had been charging blindly. Being in those large yet stuffy info-sessions with scores of my peers, I felt like I was competing with friends, now comparing the merit of the different activities we did over the years. The speedy networking sessions came across as formulaic and inauthentic to me. During interviews, I found myself discussing things I found uninteresting and irrelevant to my college experience. I soon started doubting whether I actually belonged in this field.

On the other hand, my time at Learning Innovation became more than just a platform to obtain a job. Beyond improving my digital marketing and analytics capabilities, I started enjoying work itself. I loved the little jolt of achievement after finishing a task. I loved presenting ideas to the team and having ownership over my work. But most of all, I valued the people around me. Courtney was an amazing supervisor who connected me to everyone in the office and taught me alot about authentic professionalism. I started learning more about Learning Innovation’s vision, spearheaded by the new leader Matthew Rascoff. I admired how he sought to leverage Duke’s clout to create social impact, such as his project to track the performance of low-income high school students who took an online summer program so that admissions could get better insights into their potential. Matthew was actually one of the first people to tell me, after I asked him how I could get to a position like his, to forgo consulting and focus on startups.

In my senior spring, I was accepted into the Venture for America fellowship, which connects recent college graduates who are passionate about entrepreneurship with startups in cities that need talent. Learning Innovation’s work opened my eyes to how technology in education can provide more people with strong educations and uniquely incite a re-thinking of traditional pedagogy. In ed-tech, I also found an entire community of people devoted to continuous learning, an ethic that I found essential as a first-generation college student. Through VFA, I joined Practice (acquired by Instructure) and found a team driven by those same values.

Working in ed-tech after Learning Innovation feels, to some extent, like a continuation of the interests I had developed over college that I am now actualizing. Moreover, many of the skills I learned from Courtney have been “leveled-up” so that I play an integral role at my current company. I have received feedback that I work more maturely than other recent graduates, and I think much of that maturity can be attributed to my internship with Learning Innovation during senior year. My most important takeaways, however, are larger career lessons. I was daunted by my first job search, and sometimes did not prioritize my true values during it. By allowing myself to take a step back and look at industries and roles outside of the ones most talked about on campus, I discovered a whole range of opportunities beyond those presented by campus recruiters. It has been incredibly rewarding to leverage my Duke experiences in my current job, allowing me to have a new relationship to Duke beyond the alumni connection, like continuing to collaborate with Learning Innovation to support current students as they navigate their own starting careers with this post!