3 Quick Lessons from a Summer Student

I’ve had a number of friends who have taken summer jobs with the federal government. Some through coop, others through FSWEP (or equivalent programs for a few smaller agencies). Students provide some interesting insight into how the federal government treats new, short-term employees, as students are typically employed for 4 months.

I was recently talking to a friend of mine who spent the summer as a student at one of our smaller agencies within the GoC. She had completed 3 years of a polisci degree, and had been offered a job at the last minute.

In order to try to do something concrete, I asked her what 3 lessons she would give to students who are hired by the feds for summer postings. I asked for another 3 lessons she would give to managers who hire summer students. This post is about the first set of lessons:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions — just because everyone else can read eachothers’ minds, doesn’t mean you should be expected to.

This is certainly an important lesson in any workplace, but I find the government to be particular bad for speaking ‘governese’ — acronyms, processes, terms, etc, are all part of the language that unless you’ve worked in government, you likely don’t know what they mean. So ask questions, and write down the answers to refer to later. This is especially true with acronyms.

2. Be proactive — ask for work if you don’t have any, but be careful not to bug your manager too much.

I can certainly relate to this as well from my first few months in government. If you’re done work, make sure you ask for more, or see what you can do to help out. As you get to know your manager, you might be able to anticipate their needs. Volunteer to help out on projects, and do things within your capacity.

3. Find an e-mail buddy

The first few months of working in the government can be a bit of a surreal experience. It’s a massive machine that has its own distinct culture and way of doing things that might not always make sense. Having someone you can vent to, or at least can help you maintain your sanity as you adjust to the world of government, can be essential.

Three quick lessons, but as we move ahead (and May will be here soon), hopefully some summer students can take these hints to heart.

Next Week: 3 lessons to managers of summer students

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