July 24, 2019
Although an internship is often pursued outside of the college campus setting, it should not be viewed as “time-out” from school to go to work. An internship is first of all a learning experience. Some people learn more effectively by “doing,” and internships provide that opportunity. Not only will you learn by doing, but by observing how other people work in a unique cultural context. Remember that an internship is graded based on what you can document that you learned, not solely on the evaluation of your performance at the site.
Most students report working just as hard if not harder on their internships than they do for classes on campus. Pursuing an off-campus internship requires a lot of time and energy, and a different kind of energy than while “at home” in regular classes. Interns should be prepared to not be constantly occupied with a particular task; this is an opportunity to reflect, ask questions, and observe.
Regardless of the financial arrangements, an intern is not the same as a volunteer. An intern earns credit and a grade based on what he/she learns from the experience, not solely on a performance evaluation. He/she is accountable not only to a site supervisor but also to a faculty coordinator who evaluates the quality of the learning experience. A volunteer may perform the tasks equally well but may or may not be self-conscious or intentional about the learning derived. As an intern you must be intentionally involved in fulfilling learning objectives in order to successfully earn credits.
Student interns often bring special skills, knowledge, and fresh ideas to an organization. It is not appropriate, however, for an organization to expect you as an intern to be the “resident expert” or to fill a gap in an area in which the staff lacks basic skills or knowledge. You should be supervised by a professional staff person who has some expertise in your area of work.
On the other hand, an intern is not supposed to just perform all the routine or uninteresting work an organization needs help with. An internship should be a meaningful learning experience; whether or not it is meaningful is a judgment you must make in conjunction with your faculty coordinator. Most positions and projects involve some routine work; this shouldn’t occupy all of your time daily, but you shouldn’t be opposed to doing routine work – often doing the “less fun” work shows a degree of solidarity and offers other learning opportunities beyond the actual task being done.
Photo courtesy of ICADS Alumni Mandy Weaver.
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