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by Sarah Armstrong

Let’s start in March, when  COVID-19 became a thing and all my job prospects seemed to fall dead in the water. Less than ideal. I was contemplating where I would find myself post the imminent virtual graduation. I wasn’t sure if I even felt ready to jump right into a full-time job, but I knew I wanted to wait a few years to go to grad school. 

It was at this rock-and-a-hard-spot moment when I discovered Experience Lab at Penn through my university connections. With my interest piqued, I actually took the time to investigate further and found their program description to match my exact sentiment. The best way I could describe what Experience Lab at Penn really encompassed was, “technical training and post-grad education meets hands on full-time working experience, all neatly rolled up into a shorter commitment and financially feasible 6 month program.” The learn by doing mentality had me hooked. Fast forward several months to July 2020 I was beginning the pre-work ready to launch into the whole process. 

Experience Lab at Penn for me was truly a diamond in the rough I ended up stumbling upon at the exact right time, and for that and these past few months I am very grateful! This experience has been eye opening, fruitful, and humbling, but, throughout it all I truly feel like I am better prepared to take on the next chapter of my life with defined goals and a strong support network, which was the whole point to begin with, right? 

The pre-work and Meetup portions of Experience Lab at Penn that followed were deeply engaging and got me thinking about how, in just two weeks, I felt like I had gotten more value than I did out of some of my semester-long courses at school. It also opened my eyes to the fact that I can learn more and do more, much quicker, than I anticipated.

This perspective stuck with me as I began my Field Experience where I worked as a marketing fellow at Confirmed Consent. The small, growing company has created a cloud-based, HIPAA-compliant, healthcare platform that provides interactive patient education, and comprehensive delivery of procedure details for informed consent. For my situation, I was the only person in the marketing department. This thought was overwhelming at first, I didn’t feel like I had the experience or credibility to be acting as the entire marketing leg of this company. Moreover I simply didn’t feel like I knew how or where to start. It felt a bit like being thrown into the deep end, but ultimately that is the fastest way to learn how to swim. 

Grateful I had the support from my team at Experience Lab at Penn and more resources now than if I had just entered the workforce without this program simultaneously in my tool belt, it became much easier to tackle problems and move one step at a time to reach goals. 

One of the best things I got out of Experience Lab at Penn, aside from the technical skills we learned in Meetup and the pre work, was an overall approach to navigating digital marketing. It is easy to get lost in the weeds when you feel overwhelmed. I learned to approach a new position with priorities one, two, and three as: a content audit, competitor analysis, and a detailed marketing plan to truly set me up for success. This approach not only gave me my bearings in the company, but much like my experience during Meetup, it showed me I was better equipped than I thought. I kept finding that I learn and do more much faster than my insecurities in the workplace would lead me to believe. Approaching the end of this program now, I feel more oriented and capable. I have explicit goals for my future and feel confident in my ability to execute them.

You can only be so prepared for something beforehand because the true confidence comes from doing and experiencing. The learn by doing mentality of Experience Lab at Penn is a great first step into the professional world where you can take risks with a safety net of support underneath. For me this was the perfect bridge from education to the workforce, where the two melded together and gave me the confidence, skill, and experience that I needed before moving on to the next transition. I am extremely grateful I found Experience Lab at Penn when I did. I think that this transition between being an undergraduate and the working world, if that is where you choose your next step to be, is very abrupt and the alternatives are often overlooked.

My advice for individuals that find themselves in this same pre-graduation predicament that I was in, is to explore your options. There is not only one way, and because you are moving on from one chapter doesn’t mean you have to do so without support. 

Sarah Armstrong, Experience Lab Fellow, Fall 2020