Princeton follows a unique calendar system, where winter break is part of fall semester and students take their finals in January. Because of this set up, between the end of finals period and the start of the new semester, Princeton has a week of break formally known as Intercession. Some people take this opportunity to relax at home. Others go on trips with their friends. Regardless, it’s arguably the most carefree week in the academic year. With the burden of fall semester lifted from my shoulders and the work of the upcoming semester still unknown, I found myself with minimal obligations and time that I otherwise would never have.
During the break, I took an opportunity to delve into career exploration through the Princeternship Program. Every semester, Princeton’s Career Services offer students experiential internships with partner organizations from an assortment of fields. Most of these connections were established through the Princeton alumni network. Participants rank their top three choices and go through an interview process that is more geared towards matching students with the appropriate internship than it is about competition.
I participated in a shadowing internship along with two other students at The Cornea Laser and Eye Institute in Teaneck, New Jersey. Because I was coming from Princeton, I woke up at 5 a.m. to embark on the long three-hour commute to Teaneck. I arrived there at around 9 a.m. and the three of us proceeded to change into appropriate attire, putting on a white lab coat, hair net and surgical mask.
Throughout the day, we were exposed to numerous aspects of the profession and met with people at various stages in their lives. In the morning, we chatted with a medical student who was at the end of his residency. He explained his reasons for going into optometry (which I thought were rather convincing) and offered us advice on the long process that is medical school.
Our host, Dr. Peter Hersh, was a Princeton alumni himself. Before the internship, I read up on his work and researched procedures he performed at the institute. I was a bit star struck to learn that Dr. Hersh was among the group of people who pioneered and published the first research paper on laser correctional procedure.
I was grateful for the opportunity to observe eight separate surgeries and learn more about the techniques that Dr. Hersh had polished. He was very patient and thorough in his explanations. Despite being extremely busy, he took the time to walk us through what he was doing every step of the way and answer any lingering questions after each procedure.
This opportunity not only made me rethink my future career path, it also demonstrated the power of the Princeton alumni network. Near the end of the day, the conversations moved to similarities and differences between his Princeton experience and ours. Experiencing this undeniable connection with Dr. Hersh that bridged over three decades was an incredible feeling.