Meghna is currently a second-year political science major and French and international studies minor at the University of Illinois Chicago. She is the coordinating producer for the DME Interns podcast. In her free time, she likes to explore Chicago, specifically finding new coffee shops, reading and playing with her dog, Thor.
Meghna talks a bit about her decision to switch from being a biology major on a pre-health track after taking a political science class. She enjoyed how she can develop her pre-existing interests in the area through coursework and decided to officially make the switch. She explains how she found the DME internship on LinkedIn after joining groups to connect with more people who also enjoyed political science. Meghna’s own experiences are why she encourages others to also get involved with LinkedIn, as it’s a great way to connect with other students on campus with similar interests or to network for a job.
Right now, Meghna is still being inspired by her current courses, though she is looking forward to getting a master’s degree in the future as well. She also offers some advice for other interns about their future job search. She encourages them not to be afraid of rejection, not to take any rejection personally, to be confident in their skills and to be proactive about the experiences they know they want. Lastly, Meghna expresses how she appreciates that with this internship, she can produce content and materials that will help her get another job in the future, no matter what area it is in. She emphasizes how the combination of hard and soft skills you gain in any work position is very helpful, both personally and professionally.
Use the audio player to listen to Meghna’s full interview, or read the transcript below:
Serena: Hello and welcome to the DME Interns Podcast. I’m your host Serena Aguilar and I hope you will join me in learning about the DME Interns, what they do, and what they hope to do in the future.
Serena: Hello everybody, my name is Serena. I am the new podcast host for the DME interns podcast for the VA. Today’s first episode is very applicable ‘cause today we have the coordinating producer of the DME interns podcast, Meghna. Meghna as I said is the coordinating producer on the DME interns podcast and the ValorU podcast. This is her first year involved with the DME team at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. She is currently a second-year political science major and French international studies minor at the University of Illinois Chicago. In her free, Meghna likes to explore Chicago, specifically finding new coffee shops, read, and play with her dog Thor. Meghna, how are you doing today?
Meghna: I’m doing great! How are you doing?
Serena: I am doing as well as can be expected.
Meghna: Midterm season, right?
Serena: Midterm season. It’s— it’s a time. It truly is a time, but I’m glad we were able to record this first episode. So Meghna, can you talk a little bit more about what you do- umm- on the team and kind of what your role is?
Meghna: Yeah for sure! So I am, as you stated, the coordinating producer for both the DME interns podcast and the ValorU podcast. So basically, what that means is I schedule all of the different timings and meetings you have for hosting and interviewing other people for the podcast as well as planning times to edit the podcast when those podcasts are gonna go up. So basically all of the different outside tasks that kind of go with being able to publish an episode is under my responsibilities, and that was pretty easy this week considering that I’m the host, so yeah.
Serena: Oh yeah it’s awesome. Just kind of being able to be like “Oh, who’s scheduled today? It’s me.” Simple simple.
Meghna: It’s me. I’m the guest today, yeah.
Serena: How did you find this internship?
Meghna: So I—when I switched my major to political science this past year, I started looking on LinkedIn for different groups and like just basically different student groups and like involved in political science and all those kinds of things. So on one of the groups I joined, someone actually was already a part of the internship and was promoting the internship to a new group of people applying the next summer. So I saw that post and I got really interested in it and found a lot of different internships involved in the VSFS that really piqued my interest so that’s how I came across the DME project.
Serena: Awesome. LinkedIn is so helpful.
Meghna: It definitely is. I think everyone should have a LinkedIn like be on it if you’re looking for like any sort of professional experience like anything in the realm of like something professional career-related like you need to be on LinkedIn for that.
Serena: Oh yes, so especially just kind of—like you said, finding those groups, connecting with your— with the other students on campus is so helpful ‘cause you can see what they’re doing right now, and you can say “Oh hey, maybe I should apply next time!”
Meghna: Oh yeah, most definitely.
Serena: So you said you switched your major. What kind of made you decide to switch to political science?
Meghna: So originally when I started out my freshman year, I was actually a biology major on the pre-health track, and I quickly—I’d always have a love and an interest in STEM and the sciences, and I really thought that was my passion, but for a gen-ed course, I actually had to take a political science class, and it just so helped develop the interest I already had in the news and current events in like public policy and I decided to just kind of make that switch ‘cause I knew that I wouldn’t be happy in a major that didn’t pique my interest in the same way that-that one singular political science class did so that’s why I decided to make the switch.
Serena: You remember what political science class that was?
Meghna: Yeah, it was just actually like a gen-like “Poli-Sci 101”-like Intro to Government class and my professor would talk about like current events of the week, how it related to the different topics of government we were covering and so it was a really engaging class, but even if the material wasn’t that engaging, I was just absolutely obsessed with it and I’m so glad I decided to take it.
Serena: Yeah, gen-ed courses are really great for just kind of figuring out like “Oh hey, this- this is pretty fun.” That’s the reason I got my history minor—‘cause I took an amazing class with an amazing professor about—how the slave trade impacted societies in Africa, not America, and it was such an interesting perspective that I hadn’t learned about before, so I just kind of jumped into it.
Meghna: Wow, that’s so cool! Yeah gen-eds are definitely like—you look at your courses and you think “Ugh, I can’t believe I have to take all these dumb gen-eds” but sometimes they can really be the classes that impact you the most in your college career.
Serena: That’s a great thing about college: just take anything!
Meghna: Yeah, definitely.
Serena: Okay, so what would you say is kind of like your overarching career goal? Is there something specific you have in mind more just the general area you want to go into?
Meghna: Well, when I first started out in my poli-sci major transition, I pictured myself working at the state department working semester—I am actually taking a political parties course and that’s really helped developed my interest in like American public policies in our own governments. So right now, I don’t have a set career goal, I do know I would like to get a Masters, but I’m still—I’m still figuring things out and I think that’s okay I don’t think you have to have it all figured out as soon as you like have your major—as soon as you like have like any kind of interest. You can keep developing the interest and just keep letting it ebb and flow, and like sometimes things are more interesting and sometimes they aren’t, so I think it’s okay that I don’t have like a super-set plan right now.
Serena: Yeah, you’re still a sophomore as well. You’ve got so much time. Like I’m—I’m a junior right now so I kinda have to figure things out, but sophomore year—your first two years of college is totally okay to have no idea what you’re doing.
Meghna: I think this internship is providing me with so many things. First of all, it’s providing me with a bunch of like hard technical skills in terms of like producing a podcast and working with different like professional like technologies that real working adults use in the world like Slack and Trello and things like that. So that experience is already super awesome, and then it also gives me a project portfolio because like—I have a hand in producing these podcasts, so I can go to future employers and say “Hey I created this content and look at how good this is.” I think I’d be able to do a good job at whatever X-Y-Z job I choose to do, and then it terms of like my own personal skills, I think the coordinating and scheduling aspect of being a coordinating producer has helped my own personal time management skills because when I work on like organizing systems for this podcast, it kind of helps shape and it gives me more ideas of how I can balance my own time, and so I think there are a lot of really great benefits to not just this internship, but any internship anyone decides to do because the combination of the professional experience with the hard and the soft skills you’re gaining, it’s really really valuable.
Serena: Yeah, especially for political science students, sometimes I feel like the pressure is on to get an internship like a representative, or get an internship with like a non-profit that you really enjoy, but there are so many different positions in government that you can pretty much get an internship anywhere, and you’ll have applicable skills.
Meghna: Oh yeah, most definitely especially with this being digital media engagement, you know digital media is how everyone—I mean it’s media so everyone can consume it and like to be—to know how to market something, to know how to create something, I think it’s gonna be a really really valuable skill now but it’s also gonna be a valuable skill in years to come because everyone wants to get the word out about their project or even senators and representatives would like to get the word out about whatever policies they’re doing, so I think especially with this internship, it’s really helpful all-around.
Serena: It’s also really helpful in the world of politics to get your name out there.
Meghna: Yes, definitely.
Serena: Making the connections, uh—kind of building your network, invaluable.
Meghna: So, so invaluable like really you cannot put a price on having your name out there and on projects that people are like listening to or reading or involved in—yeah, it’s like, the best thing you could do for yourself.
Serena: You never know who is gonna listen. You never know like who’s gonna see if you publish a paper, you never know who is gonna see it.
Meghna: Exactly. Exactly.
Serena: So what kind of advice would you give people who are either looking for an internship, have had some struggles in the past, or—or just like new to an internship in general and don’t exactly know where to go.
Meghna: I think my advice would be: you cannot be afraid of rejection, because you will apply to so many different internships and you will most likely be qualified or even more than qualified for a lot of those positions, but you never know what exactly the hiring manager is looking for, so don’t take those rejections personally. It’s not you. You have so many skills, you just need to keep applying to things, keep looking for things, be proactive, about the experiences that you’re looking for. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people too if you see that they’ve had an experience that you’re looking for, you can just reach out with a really quick LinkedIn message or whatever be like “Hey, I saw that you had this. If you have like any pieces of advice—” and people love talking about their experiences and they generally like helping people, so I’m sure that most people that you reach out to would be more than happy to give you advice as well, so just be proactive and don’t be afraid of rejection.
Serena: That’s something I have to work on so much is not taking that rejection personally, and something that really helped me about that is being the one to interview because I did have to interview a few people during the course of this internship, um—and for most people it wasn’t anything personable, it wasn’t that I didn’t like them or I didn’t think that they would do good work. It was more just the best possible fit, and you can be like a centimeter—a centimeter off, and I always felt so bad rejecting people. It feels so awful.
Meghna: But yeah, exactly. Like you said, the best fit is so subjective so even though you have all the hard skills you have like all the technical things, like you get along great like the interviewer or the hiring manager, it’s really just like a subjective thing and sometimes it’s not even something that’s measurable—you can like look at two resumes and they’re exactly the same, and then you meet them in person and talk to them, and there’s just something about like one of the candidates that like puts them over the edge and that’s just kind of the way the hiring world works especially in politics—it’s actually in this kind of government-oriented work, so yeah. Rejection is something I think a lot of people including myself, I should take my own advice, and not take rejections too personally—it’s something we’re all working on right?
Serena: Yeah, everybody’s got a project on themselves that they’re trying to work on, and it also helped me to know, I was not the only person rejected. That’s something that helped me so much, talking to other people and them being like “oh yeah, I’ve applied—like this semester alone I’ve applied to 30 different internships and I haven’t gotten one,” and sometimes that’s just—it’s nice to know that you’re not alone.
Meghna: Most definitely. The solidarity that comes with failed applications and like “Oh I tried really hard for this and it just didn’t work out,” is definitely, definitely super helpful so, I guess to add to the advice, I would say like: “Build yourself a little community, it can be like a whole LinkedIn group, or it can just be like a couple of good friends who are in the same position as you are so you can lean on each other, ask for advice, help the other person if you can, so I guess I’ll add that onto my little piece of advice.
Serena: And also, there will be somebody willing to take a chance on you. There will all—one of the first internships I had—the guy who interviewed me, I hadn’t had any experience before, but because of I—I think he said like my moxie or something like that, he was willing to take a chance on me. There’s always going to be somebody who is willing to take a chance on you.
Meghna: Oh yeah most definitely, you can apply—all it takes is one application and one acceptation so in a sea of like 30 rejections, all it takes is like one of them to say yes and you got yourself set. That actually reminds me of my first job like my first summer job in high school, I never had a job before so I went to the mall and started applying places, and I actually worked at do you remember Justice the store just for girls?
Serena: Oh my gosh, yes I remember Justice.
Meghna: Yeah! So that was my first summer job in high school and the hiring manager said to me, she’s like, “you know what, there’s just something about your energy. I think you’d be a really great fit here” and it’s like nothing that was or wasn’t—obviously I had like clubs and things but it wasn’t like working experience, and she’s like “you know what, it’s just something about your energy, I really like you, I think you’re good for the team, we’re gonna hire you.” It’s like “great that’s awesome!” So yeah, all it takes is just one.
Serena: There are so many things that count as experience too. If you’ve had any volunteer work, if you had any club work, on school grounds or off. I mean, ANYTHING can count as experience. If you have like the determination to say “well, sure you know it was a volunteer experience, but I still learned more about how the organizational system worked at this nonprofit.” That’s something.
Meghna: Exactly, don’t sell yourself short. So many people do that where they’re just like “oh but it was just one time that I did this one thing—” no, but you still did it that one time, and that’s still something that you have that other applicants might not have, so just don’t sell yourself short and don’t sell the experiences that you have over the course of your life short, like really think about everything that you done, it can be class projects, group projects, essays that you’ve written, maybe research that you’ve done for a class like really, all of that just—it shows your experience level and it shows all the different skills that you have so, don’t be afraid to put those on your resume either.
Serena: Mhm. That was a really good talk. I always really enjoy talking to you Meghna.
Meghna: I always enjoy talking to you.
Serena: Anybody who is curious, me and Meghna work really closely, uh—on this podcast. Anytime I’m opening Slack, it’s mostly her that I’m messaging.
Meghna: Same here. The first thing I check on Slack is that if I need to send Serena anything, or if Serena sent me anything. It’s one of the first things I’m checking.
Serena: It—it’s great, honestly.
Serena: Well Meghna, do you have any parting words?
Meghna: Um, I am—I feel so lucky to have this internship and have this experience, and I hope that anyone who’s listening will consider applying for an internship with the DME interns team, and yeah you’ll get a lot of great experiences, a lot of great connections and it really is like an awesome place to be if you’re a student, if you’re looking for something on a more flexible schedule like definitely consider applying for it.
Serena: That was very nice. Thank you very much for talking with me.
Meghna: Thank you so much for having me.
Serena: Of course, of course, and that’s all for today. Thank you for listening!
Serena: Thank you so much for listening. Please don’t forget to subscribe and if you could give us a 5-star rating, we really appreciate it! For more information about joining the DME interns team, please visit dmeinterns.org . You can also follow us on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Once again, my name is Serena and I hope to see you all next time. Bye!