Maui Brennan is a second-year M.Sc. student in Bocconi’s Economic and Social Sciences (ESS) program. He completed his Bachelor’s degree in Commerce at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, with a double major in Economics and Finance and a minor in Te Reo Māori. He is interested in macroeconomics and economics of inequality. Since August, he has been doing his curricular internship in the Financial Research Department of the European Central Bank (ECB).
Cansu: Hello Maui, and congratulations on your internship placement at the European Central Bank (ECB)! Could you tell us a bit about the application procedure and how you decided to do your internship there?
Maui: In the first stage of your application, you have to put down your CV, the languages you have learned, the subjects you have taken during your undergraduate and graduate studies, and the programming languages you are comfortable with. There are also specific questions for each Department that you would like to apply for. When I applied for the financial research position, they asked me about my knowledge of SQL and the practical experience from my past research projects. Then there is the interview stage, in which they ask you more about your skills.
I chose the ECB for my curricular internship because I thought it was the perfect place for me given my passion for macroeconomics. With the ECB being one of the largest central banks in the world, I believe it is also the perfect opportunity to learn from economists and other trainees.
Cansu: Are you doing your internship in person or remotely? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of your mode of working?
Maui: Right now, it is optional to do either: you can work from home or from the office. I had a bit of experience working from home, but I prefer the office much more because it is easier to get in touch with the economists and other trainees. They can help you out if you are stuck with a certain task, which is very useful because in the first few weeks, you are likely to get completely stuck on quite a few tasks, even simple ones, as you must get used to the whole data infrastructure and to all the different software that they use.
Working from the office, meeting with other people and being in the building, I feel much more productive. At home, it is a bit more flexible, and you can still complete the tasks you were assigned as they give you the resources to work from home as well. It just takes much longer to do the work because you do not have as many resources at home, such as monitors like those in the office.
Cansu: How do you like your experience so far? What is the best part of it?
Maui: I really love it. The amazing part is when you meet the economists at the ECB, and they treat you like an equal, even if you are making a small contribution to the research. They trust you even when it is the first time you are doing a certain graph or coding for data cleaning or doing any sort of task. I found it quite surprising and awesome that the environment is notably welcoming. It is also great being with other trainees, because they have similar interests as you, but trained in slightly different ways, of course, so we have a lot to learn from each other. Besides, the skills that you gain, even in the first few weeks of your traineeship, are remarkable.
Cansu: What do you think are the most important skills you gained during your internship?
Maui: I believe the most important skills I have gained are being flexible and open minded. At the university, we are used to utilizing sets of codes that fit the course material, and the data we use can be easily downloaded and put into the data editor for regressions and other analyses. However, in the real world, this is not usually the case. You have to do everything by yourself, which is an opportunity to learn different coding methods, and different programming languages (Python, in my case). The good thing is that they know that you do not have a lot of real-world experience in coding and programming, so they are quite patient. Thus, this traineeship has been a huge learning experience for me, and, being open minded about learning new technical skills, I have gotten a lot out of it.
Cansu: Do you have any advice for students looking for internships?
Maui: During my application, what really surprised me was that they were much more interested in the kinds of data I had exposure to and the skills I had than my financial knowledge. So, my advice to other students applying for internships is not to just look at the subjects in question but to pay attention to the skills needed as well. Most of the time they care much more about your skills than your knowledge. My knowledge about finance is really limited, but they liked what I have done in the past with micro data using SQL and R; that was much more valuable to them than knowledge about finance.
If you know you have got the skills for it, apply for the job, even if you do not think you will get it. You do not know what the outcome will be, and it is fine. Just give it a try.