David Widder, Class of 2017, paved his way to his top choice graduate program with the experience he gained from multiple internships

“Looking back it seems very linear, but it wasn’t,” Widder said. 

Widder got his first research job when a professor took note of his class project. “I really loved the class, so I was working way harder than I needed to,” he said. Widder’s interest in the subject came through from the effort and attention he put towards the class, specifically his use of office hours.

“I went to his office hours for help and, because of that, he knew my face, he knew I was really engaged, and he knew that I cared enough to take time out of my day to go bug him about [the class],” Widder said. The professor invited Widder to join his research lab that utilized the skills he had learned in the course. The research project wasn’t exactly what Widder wanted to do, but he used the opportunity to improve his skills and pad his résumé.

“You have to start small. I got that experience that then made me competitive later when I applied to fancier scholarships and such.”

From the experience he gained in the research lab, Widder was able to start looking for bigger and better opportunities. 

“You have to be self-directed,” Widder said. “No one’s going to drive it for you, but there’s definitely a lot of pieces you can assemble to help the process.” Widder sought out help from the Career Center on campus to help him construct his application essays and fine-tune his résumé for each internship. He also utilized the connections he built with professors through office hours to ask for letters of recommendation.

“Going to a professor’s office hours is one of the ways that you get those relationships that let you do bigger things,” Widder said. “Building that relationship with a professor is a good way to open up doors that you don’t know you need opened yet.”

After a whirlwind of applications, Widder was accepted into a highly competitive summer internship program at Carnegie Mellon University, where he conducted research with like-minded people in his field. That program led to him attending CMU in pursuit of his graduate degree.

“It was a lot of happy accidents,” Widder said. “I didn’t always know what I was doing, and probably still don’t really know what I’m doing, but don’t stress out, good things will happen. Work hard, but don’t stress out.”