What I Learned as an Amazon Intern: DU Computer Science Grad Student Shares Her Experience

sneha-sawlaniSo a summer internship probably isn’t at the forefront of your mind with papers, projects and the end of the quarter looming ahead, but when it comes to grad student internships it’s never to early to get the ball rolling. A lot of competitive internships have deadlines in late winter and early spring and it’s definitely worth fitting in some time to apply. Just ask master’s student Sneha Sawlani. She applied early in 2015 and landed a 2016 internship at commerce behemoth Amazon. This internship was so successful that she even landed a full-time position with them! Take a read below and check Sneha’s advice to DU grad students looking to land their dream job.

Intern: Sneha Sawlani, MS student majoring in Computer Science
Employer & Position: Amazon, Software Development Engineer Intern

The Application/Interview Process

The application process was fairly rigorous and involved 2-steps:

  1. Online Coding Challenge: This involved solving 7 questions in 20 minutes. After one week of passing the Coding Challenge, I was notified of a Phone Interview round and was given 2 weeks of time to prepare for it.
  2. The Phone Interview: The phone interview was technical in nature. It lasted for 45 minutes and the individual I spoke with had me write code on a shared screen to solve 2 problems. The problems tested my understanding of object-oriented design, data structures, algorithms and basic coding skills. The interviewer concluded the interview by briefly explaining intern activities at Amazon.

The Internship

From June–August 2016 I worked in Amazon’s Search department as their Software Development Engineer (SDE) Intern in the rainy city of Seattle. The first week of the 12-week internship was spent getting oriented – meeting my team, settling into the culture, and getting the hang of Amazon’s internal tools and technologies. Then it was time to get more focused. I was assigned a Software Development project to be completed under the guidance of my mentor. SDE Interns at Amazon are given most of the typical responsibilities of a full time software engineer, including writing code, attending scrum meetings, code reviews, and reporting progress to the manager.

At the end of the internship, I presented my work to the team and received feedback from senior managers and engineers. I was also required to write a self-performance review, which along with my manager’s and mentor’s review, were used for evaluation of a full-time hiring decision. I’m happy to report that at the end of the internship I was offered a full-time position and will soon be working for Amazon Search!

Favorite Parts of the Internship

  • Meaningful work, challenges, and learning: At Amazon, I got to work on an actual application that was used internally by mangers, engineers, and data scientists. The challenges of writing production code that is maintainable, scalable and efficient pushed my skills to the limit but also helped me grow as software developer. It was a productive summer with a steep learning curve.
  • Perks! Amazon took all the responsibility of relocating me to Seattle for the summer. I got to stay right next to Lake Union, attend fun intern events on weekends, and received a humongous stipend which made all the hard work worthwhile!

Advice for DU Grad Students

  • Start early: I noticed that most summer intern positions at Amazon were filled up by March. I would suggest students to apply to jobs and internships at least 7 to 8 months before the actual time.
  • Prepare for the Technical Interview: From my personal experience and from what I heard from other interns and employees, data structures, algorithms, and object-oriented design are very important topics for the technical interview preparation, especially for people fresh out of college. So take those classes seriously!
  • Get an Employee Referrals: Although I got the interview just by applying online, I think it was easier to be noticed in the pool of thousands of applicants by having an employee referral. I would suggest networking with people who already work at your target company in order to obtain one.

Getting summer internship at Amazon was a dream come true and getting a job offer out of it was even a bigger dream come true. Working with so many smart people, learning and using cutting-edge technology to solve complex problems, and applying classroom knowledge to real-world problems was a very valuable experience. It also gave me an opportunity to showcase my skills and capabilities to Amazon and allowed me to network with fellow employees. All of these steered my career toward an exciting new direction with the e-commerce giant.

Graduate Citings: DURAPS Edition with Leanne McCallum

Today we’re excited to share with you the research of DURAPS presenter Leanne McCallum. Leanne’s presentation will uncover the history of anti-trafficking efforts in the US to demonstrate how certain stakeholders and ideologies have (for better or for worse) driven the anti-trafficking narrative. Leanne’s goal is to have her scholarship aid State Department policy makers in reforming the Trafficking in Persons Report to reflect a more accurate representation of anti-trafficking efforts around the world.

Researcher: I am a 2nd year graduate student at the Korbel School of International Studies studying International Studies, with concentrations in human rights and human trafficking.

DURAPS Presentation: Title- Historical Analysis and Critique Of the U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report

In undergrad I studied International Relations and had a vague interest in gender and refugees. I participated in a month-long study abroad course in Vietnam and Thailand to study political change and modern political issues facing Southeast Asia. While I was in Thailand, I saw firsthand the way that vulnerable populations like migrants and refugees can be exploited by human trafficking. Particularly, there was a night when we visited Soi Cowboy, a notorious street in Bangkok known for its prostitution and connection to sex traffickers, where we saw women and trans women (known as Kathoey or Ladyboys) being openly exploited in a commercial sex establishment. Though I realize now that my understanding of human trafficking during my first trip to Thailand was relatively shallow and misinformed, it was a catalyst for my subsequent anti-trafficking advocacy and research.

My research focus is on anti-human trafficking policy, both domestically and abroad. I generally focus on the US or Southeast Asia, while paying particular attention to Thailand and Myanmar (Burma). The specific project that I will be presenting at DURAPS analyzes the U.S. Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report– an annual report on global country-level anti-trafficking efforts that is conducted by the U.S. Department of State. The project includes an historical analysis of American anti-trafficking policy, the foundations of the TIP Report itself and how it has evolved since it was created, and the major critiques the TIP Report is facing today.

The intent of my research project is to unpack the history of anti-trafficking efforts in the US to demonstrate how certain stakeholders and ideologies have (for better or for worse) driven the anti-trafficking narrative. Although my research paper itself has not been published, I have published several academic blogs related to this topic on the Human Trafficking Center (HTC) blog. My ultimate goal is to have my research help the State Department reform the TIP Report to reflect a more accurate representation of anti-trafficking efforts around the world.

Biggest Challenges: There are two main challenges associated with my research.

  1. The first is that there is so little academically rigorous, methodologically sound information available about human trafficking. Since human trafficking is a hidden market- because it is an illicit market, and because the victims are generally legal vulnerable populations or hidden populations- there is little verifiable data available. This means that I often am faced with a difficult question: do I utilize flawed data to inform my conclusions, or do I attempt to do the research myself?
  2. The second challenge is overcoming the pervasive misunderstandings surrounding human trafficking. This human rights issue was not recognized until the late 1990s, so there isn’t a lot of information available. As such, there are many misunderstandings about what human trafficking is and who is affected by it. For example, people often talk about US domestic human trafficking using the “perfect victim” paradigm. This is the idea that there is a specific type of person (generally a white, American girl who is sex trafficked) that people associate with human trafficking. In reality, the people most vulnerable to human trafficking are people of color and people of marginalized identities such as LGBTQ+ or compromised migratory status. This is just one example of a misunderstanding that informs anti-trafficking policy and inadvertently causes further harm to trafficking victims.

Collaborators: I work with the Human Trafficking Center as the Human Trafficking Index Project Manager. I also am a Student Event Coordinator with the Korbel Office of Career and Professional Development.

Research Advice: My advice is simple and comes from the HTC’s Director, Professor Claude d’Estrée: match your passion with your academic rigor. Your passion and interest in a topic is an important component of your research, and will help carry you through the difficult times of the research process. However, academic rigor is crucial. We cannot accurately represent the populations that we seek to support if we are conducting research that is methodologically flawed. Question the sources that you use. Are you using it because it agrees with your opinion? Or are you using it because it has clear research design and has a sufficient literature review, research background, and/or a transparent bias? Also, if you are focused on a specific population or a human rights issue, I suggest that you utilize the voices of survivors to inform your conclusions. If you exclude their voices from your research you are missing a key component of holistically understanding the nature of the problem and the solutions.

I can’t wait to share more about my research with you all at DURAPS!

Graduate Citings: DURAPS Edition with Kierra Aiello

Happy first day of Spring Quarter!
We hope you had an adventurous spring break filled with skiing, hiking, travelling, and all other things that make Denver such an exciting city to live in. Today, as part of our DURAPS series, we’re going to take you on a journey through Salvador Dali’s lesser known art medium: jewelry. At the 2017 DU Research and Performance Summit (DURAPS), master’s student Kierra Aiello will be sharing how Dali was able to transfer popular motifs such as of melting clocks and eyes into objects of gold and jewels. We hope you enjoy this snippet of Kierra’s scholarship and encourage you to stop by and see her at DURAPS!

Researcher: I am a master’s student enrolled in DU’s Art History Program.

DURAPS Presentation: Title- Love that Sparkles: The Jewelry of Salvador Dali

At DURAPS, I will be presenting my paper, Love that Sparkles: the Jewelry of Salvador Dali. In this paper, I analyze specific jewelry pieces that Salvador Dali created throughout his life.  Instead of looking only at gemstones and the karat value of the gold, like much of the scholarship on the subject, I take a look at Dali’s use of Surrealist motifs and his motivation to enter the jewelry medium. I hope to clarify some of the design choices made by the artist and connect many of his jewelry creations to his passionate love for his wife, Gala, and their shared love of fame and fortune. Through the presentation of this paper at an interdisciplinary symposium, I am hoping to discover new lenses through which I can view not only Dali’s work, but jewelry in general.

Part of the joy of studying art history at DU is taking a variety of courses, each of which has a different focus and requires a research paper. One must then fit their specialty into each course. Initially, I was taking a class on the art movements of Dada and Surrealism and I was completely stumped on how to align jewelry with artistic periods traditionally known for being off the wall eccentric and, in some cases, rejecting formal art practices all together. Where does one go when they have no idea what to research? Google. I stumbled upon the jewelry designs of Salvador Dali through a random search of Surrealism and jewelry and my interest only grew from that point. Jewelry by artists has become a regular part of my focus and it is the perfect vehicle for looking into the intersections between jewelry and art.

My current research focuses on jewelry made by artists and expands into the intersections jewelry has with more traditional definitions of “art.” In order to do this, I look closely at the jewelry creations of well-known artists such as Salvador Dali, Alexander Calder, Meret Oppenheim, Bernar Venet, and many others, as well as artist jewelry collectors, like Diane Venet, who owns and displays jewelry piece by over one hundred recognized artists. In some cases, the artists chose to use jewelry as a means of exploration and veer into new motifs and materials, at other times, they practically duplicate their other works into miniature gold sculptures that can adorn the body.

Historically, jewelry has been viewed as more of a “craft” than an “art,” and therefore has not been studied and analyzed the same way as painting and sculpture. Art historians constantly assess the life, motifs, materials, and practices of an artist, along with more foundational elements of the art itself, such as color, line, composition, etc. These thorough practices of studying and looking should, in my opinion, be used in jewelry study as well. I am currently attempting to make the intersections between traditional “fine art” and ornamental jewelry known by studying the materials, means of acquisition, uses, and designs of artist jewelry.

Collaborators: Dr. M.E. Warlick is one of the wonderful professors of the DU Art History department. She encouraged my work with Surrealist jewelry and helped me to understand the fundamentals of the movement. Now, she is my master’s research paper advisor and is currently helping me to hone my topic as well as expand into new areas. Dr. Annette Stott is another professor I am happy to have working with me on my research. She has helped me to reshape topics into papers and then continues to push me to rework the papers into concise and meaningful presentations for events such as the annual DU Art History Symposium.

Graduate Citings: DURAPS Edition with Kirsten Fahlbusch

Hello Grad Students!
All this week and next week we’ll be featuring research that will be featured at the DU Research and Performance Summit (DURAPS), which is only 2 weeks away! Today we’d like to bring you the eye-opening research of GSPP master’s student Kirsten Fahlbusch. Kirsten’s prior experience as a deputy probation officer motivated her to tackle the tricky issues surrounding gender in law enforcement. She specifically looked into whether a probation officer’s and/or victim’s gender had an influence on a probationer’s compliance. We hope you’ll enjoy learning more about her research both in this blog and at the summit!

Researcher: I am a second year master’s student enrolled in the Forensic Psychology program which is in the Graduate School of Professional Psychology department.

DURAPS Presentation: Title- Probation Compliance and Gender

I conducted research on the interaction between the gender of probation officers, probationers, and the victims of the probationers’ offenses, I then explored how these various gender combinations impacted the probationers’ compliance. Some of my questions included: “were male probationers more compliant when assigned to female probation officers compared to male probationers assigned to male officers?” and “were probationers with female victims more compliant when assigned to female probation officers compared to those assigned to male officers?” My sample came from a Domestic Violence and Sex Offender unit, so all of the probationers’ offenses had identifiable victims. The results of my study found that the gender of the probation officer has an effect on the probationers’ compliance, and that the gender of the probation officer and the probationers’ victim makes a difference regarding the probationer’s compliance. Specifically, probationers were more compliant when assigned to female probation officers.

I was a deputy probation officer on the Domestic Violence and Sex Offender Unit for my field placement during the first year of my program, and I was interested in the demographic makeup of both the clients and the officers working on the unit. Probation is historically a male-dominated field, but the unit I worked on was predominately staffed by female officers so I wondered whether gender played a significant part in any of the work. I was especially interested in how probationers who had offended on female victims would interact with female versus male officers, since probationers would have to interact with a female in an authoritative role rather than as their victim.

Collaborators: This was an independent research project, but I received help throughout the process from Dr. Neil Gowensmith and Dr. Laura Meyer.

Research Advice: Going through the IRB process and getting the project off the ground was probably the most frustrating aspect of conducting my study, and the process took longer than I expected. So, my research advice to other DU graduate students would be don’t let the IRB process get you down or discourage you from working to get a project approved.

I hope to see you all at DURAPS on Friday April 7th, 2017 where I’ll be presenting my research!

Graduate Citings: DURAPS Edition with Jiade Xiao

The DU Research and Performance Summit (DURAPS) is just around the corner pios! Graduate Student Government is working hard to organize an awesome event for you all, filled with prizes, lunch, and some truly fascinating research! Today we’re happy to share with you the work of master’s student Jiade. Jiade will be highlighting two intellectuals who were highly influential in Chinese and Islamic independence movements in her presentation this year.


Researcher: Jiade Xiao is a first year student in the Josef Korbel’s International Studies master’s program.

DURAPS Presentation: Title- Comparative Analysis on Chinese and Islamic Modern Political Thought Pioneers – A Case Study on Liang Qichao and Sayyid Qutb

Harnessing my knowledge of Chinese modern political thinkers I will be doing a comparative study for my DURAPS presentation focusing on movements in China and the Middle East. Both China and the Middle East region experienced long lasting glorious ages with splendid culture and great wealth before the modern period, an era faced with the shock of Western influence and the threat of colonization. Western nations significantly challenged the traditional lifestyle and regimes in these two regions. In my presentation I will compare two thought pioneers: China’s Liang Qichao and Egypt’s Sayyid Qutb. These two intellectuals were pivotal figures in their respective countries and played important roles in the salvation of their homelands, facilitating a realization of strength and development. While you might not see similarities between China and the Middle East initially, both have had to deal with increasing Western influence and invasion. As a result, both regions experienced the rise of local intellectuals whose work help encourage movements focused on independence.

Collaborators: Dr. Hashemi, who teaches INTS 4526, Modern Islamic Political Thought, was a huge help and mentor for the work I am doing.

Research Advice: Professors are always nice and helpful at DU. Frequent meetings with professors to brainstorm newly emerged ideas has been vital to developing my research.

Hope to see you all at DURAPS on Friday April 7th, 2017!

Sometimes, Social Science Grad Students Just Need a Place to Work. . . . a Place with Coffee, Chocolate, and Help


-By Glenn Koelling

Let’s say you’re a grad student in the social sciences.  Oh you are? How convenient! It’s the end  of winter term and your project is coming up.  Yeah, that one.  The one you just have to sit down and do.  Technically, you can work almost any place, but the question is what’s your productivity like?

Re/Write Studio is an experimental outreach program (hosted by the Research Center and the Writing Center) targeting graduate students in the social sciences. Three times throughout winter term, we’re providing a workspace for students to come, work on projects, and get research and writing help if they want it. The sessions last 3 hours, but participants can come whenever and for however long they want. Our final writing session will be March 3 from 2-5 in AAC 340 (the Loft).  People can register here for the last session, but drop-ins are welcome too.  We have consultants from the writing center *and* librarians who specialize in social science research available to help with quick questions or concerns. Don’t feel like you need writing help? There’s also snacks and coffee to help power you along during the writing/research process.

Why Write with Others?

For me, I get more excited about a concert if other people are excited. I actually care about football if I’m at a viewing party. With papers, if people around me are focused on their work, I focus better on mine. Groups influence us—especially when members have similar goals. But more than that, there’s a sense of camaraderie that can happen in groups. We’re all in this together, even if we’re working on different projects.

The best part about Re/Write Studio is that if you hit a block, there are people available who can help you move past it. Writing Center consultants are available to help participants with writing problems or even brainstorm ways to continue.  Librarians can help navigate the research world or help participants find new resources.

This group is designed to help students as they need it, so it’s looked different both times we’ve held it. The first time involved a lot of conversation about writing and research. The second time was mostly quiet with people hunkered down working. It’s hard to say exactly what the third time will look like, but so far, everyone has left further along in their work than when they came in. We’ve had questions ranging from organizing literature reviews to figuring out a tricky citation format. We’ve also had some productive research sessions where participants discovered ways to go further with their own work. And there’s been a lot of writing.

When the last Re/Write Studio happens, we’ll be looking for ways to continue to offer collaborative events like this. Please let either the Research Center or the Writing Center know if you’re interested in seeing more programs like this.  Hope to see you and your work March 3rd!

Graduate Citings: DURAPS Edition with Emily Krebs

emily-krebsCommunication Studies master’s student Emily Krebs stirred things up at last year’s DURAPS (yes, her’s was the one with “Motherf***ing” in the title). In her 2016 DURAPS presentation she discussed the transgressive qualities of Kanye West’s Monster video and highlighted the representations of the ways Black men are (mis)treated in modern society. Since her title catching presentation Emily has moved on to shake things up in the quantitatively dominated health communication sphere. She’s complicating the field biomedicine by peering into sucidality through a “theories of the flesh” lens and uncovering notions of societal abjection. This line of inquiry was made possible by the GSSW suicidologists she met at DURAPS! Take a look at what she’s doing now and what she learned at last year’s summit.

Researcher: Emily is a second year master’s student in Communication Studies.

Current Research: My interest in health topics is rooted in personal experiences with illness and how others in my life respond[ed] to these roadblocks. In terms of the critical perspective on this topic, I took a really awesome class with Dr. Bernadette Calafell called “Monsters in Popular Culture” as an undergrad. Dr. Calafell taught me how to view horror differently—how it could be critically analyzed to reveal a society’s fears and how they intertwine with privilege and oppression. Suicide and mental health issues are huge aspects of horror, so I wanted to dive deeper into notions of societal abjection with those topics.

I’m working on several projects focused on bringing a critical edge to health communication. Most traditional research in this arena is quantitative, which reflects notions of unbiased science—the most valid (and often only) way of knowing in biomedicine. To complicate this, I focus on more experiential ways of knowing that honor personal narratives and theories of the flesh (term coined by Chicana feminists Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa). After all, science is deeply intertwined with history, identity, and sociocultural morality. My research goal is to highlight this while elevating marginalized voices and perspectives.

My thesis explores this medical-social blend in terms of suicidality, and I’m co-authoring papers on endometriosis and eating disorders as well. I also work with The Scraps of the Heart Project (SOTHP): a community/art-based research collective centered around baby loss that’s led by Dr. Erin Willer, my awesome advisor.

Collaborators: I’m lucky to have tons of AMAZING people who work with me on these projects. Many of them took me under their wings even as an undergrad. (I was a huge nerd.) Drs. Erin Willer, Christy-Dale Sims, and Beth Suter, as well as fellow grad students Kelsea Kohler, Antonia Alvarez, Nivea Castaneda, and Shadee Abdi, plus the SOTHP Crew…This list could go on for days.

DURAPS Presentation: Last year I presented a paper about Kanye West and his controversial “Monster” music video. The video was filled with gruesome, rape-implied portrayals of female corpses, which many white audiences jumped to critique as horrifically misogynistic. My paper argued that the video could also be read as a satirical critique of the way Black men are (mis)treated in modern society—that, based on the lyrics, West was very much aware of his transgression and performed in that matter in order to highlight the racism he faces as a Black man in our society. For those of you who attended the conference or received emails about the awards, this paper was the one with “Motherf***ing” in the title. It’s a great claim to fame. Jokes aside, it’s currently under review for journal publication; I’m super excited about that!

Most of the time in grad school we’re stuck in our own departments. DURAPS is an amazing way to find other people across campus doing similar work. For me, this was huge because no one in my department explicitly studies suicide, and it’s one of my core academic interests. By attending DURAPS, I made connections with suicidologists from the Graduate School of Social Work and the Iliff School of Theology. These people have been central to my research, and there’s no way I would’ve connected with them without this conference.

Research Advice: If you love what you research (which you should!), share that passion with your audience. And don’t be afraid to show enthusiasm for other students’ work too. There’s this weird taboo in academia surrounding showing emotion. It’s silly. Don’t be afraid to get stoked.

Want to present your research at DURAPS? GSG welcomes complete or work-in-progress submissions. Be sure to submit your abstract by 2/27!