Internships: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Everybody seems to have an opinion on internships. Are they necessary for “real world” learning? Is it just free labor? Do you actually learn anything worth while?

My opinion has certainly changed since starting at FIT. On the one hand, internships are necessary for the “real world” experience of working with a team, in an office and reporting to people above you. Almost any successful professional will tell you that working under someone is necessary, and you should do it even if it is unpaid. This is where it gets a little complicated.

On the one hand, internships offer (hopefully) invaluable experience, networking opportunities, helpful references, business insight and something to put on your resume. There is no doubt that employers want experience. It can also guide you in deciding what you actually want to do when you graduate. Even if you are absolutely positive you are going to be in advertising, do you want to work for a big company or a small company? An exciting but risky start-up, or a stable respected company where you will have much less responsibility or creative freedom? Are you sure the job you think you want is actually fulfilling?

However, many people now believe that internships are detrimental to students. They certainly take up a lot of time with most companies wanting at least two full days a week. It is also hard to quantify how much someone is learning at an internship. Are you just getting coffee, making copies and running things back and forth, or is your supervisor taking the time to make sure you understand what you are doing and, most importantly, why it is important? Most internships are unpaid, which brings up the argument that internships really only benefit middle to upper class kids who can afford to work for free. If a student is paying their own way through college it is unlikely they will have time for school, their job and an unpaid internship.

Of course, most places try to get around this now with “credit bearing” internships. These are also usually unpaid, but the student can get credit for a class. This allows the school to check up on the work place to ensure it is safe, and that the student is getting enough of an education to make the time spent there worth it. However, these credit-bearing internships are not offered by every company and usually require the student to add  another class to their schedule. This limits the flexibility of their schedule for other classes and obviously takes away more time.

If I may interject with my own opinion here, I do think internships are necessary. The ones I did have certainly helped me see what jobs I thought I was interested in more clearly. I have been exposed to big companies, little companies and growing companies. I have learned a lot and made many helpful connections. However, I have never been paid for my work. I have never even been compensated for lunch or travel. Looking back now, it is very frustrating as well as quite disheartening considering I am looking for a job and having done all this work is not  a guarantee I will get hired. I met a woman recently and asked her if she would ever need a research assistant. She replied that she would love an assistant, but could not afford to pay fair compensation at the moment, and did not feel it was right to accept that labor for free. Even though it was an opportunity I could not have, I was so happy when she said that! I mean it was so refreshing just to hear someone say, “I can’t hire you, but I respect you, your work, and your time too much to let you work for nothing.”

What are your opinions? Have you had any good or bad experiences with internships?

–Emily–

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