Yale Daily News

While the ongoing vaccine rollout promises an eventual return to pre-pandemic life, multiple coronavirus-related obstacles have continued to challenge some students as they try to find summer opportunities.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring, many students were forced to adapt their plans for the summer of 2020. Study abroad programs in particular were significantly affected by the pandemic. According to the Office of Career Strategy’s annual summer activities report, just 8.1 percent of survey respondents spent the past summer abroad, compared to a previous five-year average of 27.8 percent. In addition, the percentage of students pursuing research, language study and performing arts declined, while the share of students engaging in nonlanguage academic studies increased by five percentage points.

In an interview with the News, Director of OCS and Associate Dean of Yale College Jeanine Dames expressed her optimism for the revival of research and performance opportunities this summer, citing the reactivation of in-person research at Yale and other universities and the reopening of outdoor arts festivals. Some students, however, are still struggling to secure their summer plans.

“I think if everything stays on track … research should return to what we’ve seen in past years,” Dames said. “[With] performance … it really will depend on the venues opening up. But in the summer, a lot of our performers get involved with outdoor festivals. So I’m optimistic that the outdoor things will hopefully go forward, at least in some locales, so they can get back to what they truly love doing.”

According to Dames, some students are facing uncertainty with their living arrangements for the summer, with some programs beginning remotely but offering the option to switch to an in-person format partway through. Dames added that OCS is encouraging students to discuss these possibilities with their employers or supervisors so they can have a better sense of what their summer may look like.

For Alara Degirmenci ’23, pursuing her passions in graphic design will continue to be a virtual undertaking this summer. Degirmenci plans to intern at Procter & Gamble, where she hopes to apply her studio experience in a corporate setting to create designs for tangible products.

“I’m just really excited to be working for such a big brand and making designs that actually reach consumers and make it to the market, hopefully,” Degirmenci said. “I’m excited to see how design looks at a major corporate brand, and to be able to learn from all the people there.”

Last summer, Degirmenci had originally planned to intern with Lecturer of Art and Senior Critic in Graphic Design Henk van Assen GRD ’93 at his studio in New York City — an experience that shifted to a virtual format due to the pandemic.

Degirmenci noted that working remotely has brought both benefits and challenges.

“Because [graphic design] is such a creative field, sometimes you’re in the creative mind and your creative juices are flowing, but sometimes they’re not,” she said. “And because [my internship] was remote and virtual, it gave me the flexibility to be able to work on the projects when I felt more creative and inspired. But the obvious downside is, when you’re in a studio there’s so much collaboration … it’s really hard to get that immediate reaction on Zoom.”

Other students, however, are still in the process of looking for summer opportunities. 

Janice Dean ’23 told the News that she hopes to do research in a psychology lab this summer. But with many labs already staffed for the summer and lacking openings until next fall, Dean has not yet been able to find a research position.

“I’m a low-income student, so I’m very unfamiliar with how the process is about, you know, going about research and participating in research, but the primary way that I have been exploring that is through cold emailing various professors of labs that I’m interested in,” Dean said.

Dean said she has emailed “about half of the faculty” on the Yale psychology faculty webpage and has received five to 10 negative responses, with the rest of the professors not responding.

She added that these difficulties have been compounded by the pandemic, noting that as a remote student, accessing resources has been more difficult.

“It’s definitely a little nerve racking,” Dean said. “I’m having to search [for research opportunities] more independently, versus on campus, I feel like I would have more access to people that would be able to tell me more about the resources.”

For Dean, the struggle of finding summer opportunities amid a pandemic is not new. Last summer, Dean had multiple backup plans that were disrupted by the pandemic and eventually secured a hybrid internship — half virtual, half in person — at her local Head Start program.

Dames noted that study abroad programs are still limited due to the pandemic but offered hope for the future.

“We’re really starting to hear students think about study abroad returning in their plans at some point,” Dames said. Although plans for fall 2021 are not yet finalized, Dames said students are hopeful that they will be able to go abroad in fall 2021 and spring 2022.

“Hopefully, definitely, we’re all hoping summer [20]22 will be back to normal for study abroad,” Dames said.

Dames added that she expects last summer’s trend of more students engaging in academic studies to continue this summer — especially with the two free Yale Summer Session tuition credits granted to first years and sophomores who enrolled in both the fall 2020 and spring 2021 terms and took at least one of the terms remotely.

Stephen Yin ’24 told the News that he is still looking for a summer internship in computer science, though he thinks he may have started his search too late.

“I have, as a backup plan, just taking summer classes at the Yale Summer Session, because we have those two free credits,” Yin said. “So that’s my current plan if I can’t find a summer internship.”

According to the OCS summer activities report, 17.6 percent of survey respondents pursued nonlanguage academic studies last summer.

Zhemin Shao | zhemin.shao@yale.edu