The JDRF College Internship Program Experience

In the summer of 2018, Megan Smalter completed her JDRF College Internship with Xeris Pharmaceuticals in Chicago. Megan had decided to apply earlier that year after finding out about the JDRF College Internship Program through her local JDRF Chapter.

“I knew a few people who had general internships in the past – there were a variety of experiences,” Megan said. “But knowing that this program was specifically for students with diabetes was comforting. I knew that I’d be going into a place where I would be able to share my knowledge and experience as a person living with type 1 diabetes (T1D) as well.”

After submitting her application and being initially accepted into the JDRF College Internship Program pool, she had a round of interviews with Xeris, where she was ultimately offered an internship position.

While Megan experienced the same nerves as with any other internship–commuting, getting to know a new group of people–she was welcomed quickly into the company culture.

Megan’s manager Krista Johnson, Senior Finance Manager, took the first day to go through goals and discuss not only Xeris’ expectations of the internship, but encourage Megan to share her thoughts on what she wanted out of the program as well.

“It was an exciting opportunity to host an intern because we needed the help, but also because I knew it would be a person with type 1 diabetes,” said Krista. “As a company that serves the T1D community, I knew being able to give our employees (who didn’t already have a personal tie) a perspective on having T1D would be invaluable.”

Megan’s internship was in the finance department, which built off of her university program:  a double major in finance and risk management insurance (with a minor in Spanish!). Instead of the stereotype of interns fetching coffee, Xeris utilized Megan’s skill set in finance and expertise in T1D.

She worked primarily on finance reporting, but was also able to meet with other departments and work on projects that touched different parts of the company. Being able to learn more about the pharmaceutical industry–the terminology, the different departments, clinical trials, the logistics of how everything ties together–gave Megan a better understanding of every aspect of the business.

For Megan, “the internship prepared me a lot. It was such a unique opportunity and I have more confidence now – more background experience in my field but also more experience with working a 40-hour workweek, navigating a business environment, and knowing that I’m fully capable of it.”

In past jobs, Megan felt like she had to be a bit secretive about having type 1 diabetes. If she had a low blood sugar, she felt like she had to hide it and pretend that everything was okay in order to be like everyone else without T1D.

“At Xeris, they were genuinely curious to understand how my blood sugar levels were doing and how that affected me. It was really nice to be asked,” Megan said.

In a more open environment, Megan was able to think through what she needed to have at work to better manage her T1D. She started being much more prepared, whether that meant keeping extra sites and pen needles with her or glucose tabs ready on her desk. Going back to college, she then put together a little presentation for her roommates to teach them about how to help her if she had a low blood sugar.

“I had never thought about telling them like that before,” said Megan. “I feel like Xeris really helped me with that.”

Megan and Krista at the Xeris summer outing

Megan encourages anyone thinking about applying to the JDRF College Internship Program to do so. “Don’t be afraid to apply if you feel inexperienced or you don’t think you have the knowledge yet. I felt like I didn’t know much when I started at Xeris, but they were great about teaching me the processes behind everything and why things were done in a certain way. If I ever had any questions, they were great about answering everything.”

For Krista, she “would love to have more Megans.”

Learn more about the JDRF College Internship Program here. Internships are hosted by companies in the diabetes space and include opportunities in advocacy, business operations & management, research & science, communications & marketing, non-profit management, technology, and more. Application materials are due by January 14, 2019.

By Lala Jackson