Student Spotlight: “You’re Never a Burden”

Being an international student from India, Vanshika Lohia has been worried about getting a job after college since freshman year. In a system that makes it particularly difficult for non-citizens to secure full-time work, the neuroscience and psychology double major wanted to do everything in her power to increase her chances of post-graduation success. Looking for a way to start securing research positions, Lohia turned to the Career Center.

Lohia, now a rising senior, had no resumé or cover letter when she first showed up during the Center’s pre-COVID walk-in hours. She spent a lot of time with internship team member Alex Ball, crafting those ever-important documents.

“The Career Center is a great starting place when you really don’t know anything at all,” Lohia explains. “The hiring process here is very different than in India.”

Lohia credits Ball with showing her how to make her writing more effective, specifically by choosing strong verbs, impactful statements, and maintaining brevity in her bullet points. 

“There was a format he shared with me for my resumé – start with a strong verb, followed by an adjective to describe that experience, and then explain what impact that experience had for me. It’s like a quick cheat sheet.”

Because of these strengthened documents, Lohia was able to secure an internship working for the Haffkine Institute for Training, Research and Testing in Mumbai, India during the fall 2020 semester in the midst of the COVID pandemic. This research opportunity allowed Lohia to expand her hands-on skills and make-up for some pandemic-induced gaps in her education.

“I learned how to do a lot of specific biological procedures and techniques, stuff I’d otherwise learn in a lab class, but I didn’t since all my classes were online,” Lohia says. “I also learned more about COVID since we were studying the structure of the virus at my internship. It was very fulfilling to study something that impacted the world for so long afterwards.”

Although the research position was an invaluable experience for Lohia, it did cause her some financial worry. 

“It was definitely very stressful during COVID because I spent over 350 hours working with that internship and it took away all the time that I’d otherwise use to get a paying job,” Lohia notes. “I really wanted the experience that came with that research, but the downside was that it was unpaid.”

These worries soon ceased as Lohia once again turned to the Career Center. She was awarded an internship mini-grant for the semester, allowing her to fully partake in her research without struggling to support herself financially. 

“It was such a relief to get the grant,” Lohia says. “That was my only means of income for those four months. When you’re working so much, it’s really nice to get compensation for it.”

Looking to the future, Lohia does still have some concerns, notably because of her status as an international student. 

“It’s much harder to get even part-time jobs because I don’t have the same work authorization that citizens do, and not every employer will want to work with me to do all that extra paperwork,” she explains.

Lohia plans on going to medical school after she graduates from Pitt, but the process will likely be more rigorous for her than for other students. 

“I have to apply to more places since less schools accept international students. The ones that do tend to be more elite, competitive schools who accept less students in general so that makes it difficult, too.”

Lohia says she plans on going to the Career Center for interview prep once she secures some medical school interviews. Although she’s been there often to review documents and seek advice, she is never afraid to go back.

“I tell other students to not worry about reaching out to the Center. At first, I thought it was weird that I kept going back for the same thing, but I just wanted to make sure I was on the right track. It won’t bother the staff to reread things you wrote; you’re never a burden on them.”

By Dionna Dash
Dionna Dash Nordenberg Scholar