This summer, I completed my first internship outside academia, and in this post, I will reflect on some of the non-technical realizations I’ve had about working at a large corporation. Overall, it was a pleasant experience (though I guess I don’t have similar ones for comparison).

The company’s called IQVIA, a contract research organization (CRO). CROs help pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and other healthcare companies push new drugs and medical devices into the market by assisting with clinical trials. IQVIA is headquartered in Durham, NC, and with 50,000+ employees, is one of the largest CROs in the world.

Anyway, on to the lessons.

  1. Integration is convenient: As far as I could tell, every employee at IQVIA has Skype/Outlook/Office integrated in their account. This made it very easy to collaborate on PowerPoint, schedule meetings, and give presentations online. This also made me feel weirdly powerful, as I was able to see other people’s calendars.

  2. Meetings are abundant: Speaking of meetings, I had a lot more than I expected: at least four weekly meetings, and one daily meeting. In my experience as a student, I had never even heard of a daily meeting, but of course, in academia, progress is measured on a much longer timescale.

  3. Hierarchies are enticing: I enjoyed navigating the pecking order — it felt like playing a simple version of the Wiki Game. Whenever I met someone new, I would look for our least common ancestor (under the “reports to” relation) to add them to my mental model of the company.

  4. Cubicles are alluring: This might be blasphemous, but I kind of liked sitting in my cubicle. It was quiet and comfortable. Most importantly, it provided a space for me to associate with “work.” This is very different from life as a student, in which I don’t strongly associate any particular desk with “the place where I work.”

  5. Camaraderie is key: With all the meetings, hierarchy, and cubicle life came my most “profound” realization: The amount I enjoyed my work was strongly (though not solely) correlated with my relationships with my colleagues. My favorite hour of each week was the “collaboration meeting,” an informal Skype conversation about our programming woes, tech news, and anything else we wanted to discuss. I don’t think having great colleagues can make any job amazing, but it definitely goes a long way.

It’s beneficial to see different cultures (e.g., academic, large corporate, startup, government) before making any big career choices, and I’m grateful that my experience at IQVIA was enjoyable.