Internships. That’s so college of you.
I’m sure you’ve heard of them, but do you really know what they are? Other than free labor? Or getting coffee for people? Or their dry cleaning?
That’s what movies make you think they are, but they’re wrong.
Well, maybe you know someone who has had that experience, but they don’t have to be that way.
For me, internships helped me to either confirm that I did like something or realize that I really didn’t like something.
Example: I did an internship as a court-ordered supervisor. That meant I supervised parents during their visitation time with their kids. Sounds awkward, right? It sure was! There were many reasons why some people couldn’t have time alone with their kids. Most of them hadn’t abused their kids, but they had trouble with the law for other reasons. Alcohol abuse, drug abuse, some of them just couldn’t handle life very well so it was a good idea for them to be supervised, general rebelliousness towards the law that resulted in being deemed unfit to be alone with their kids, etc. Occasionally we’d have people there who had been accused of sexual abuse and were being investigated. Some of them couldn’t leave our facility, so they’d hang out there. Some could leave, but weren’t allowed to drive so we’d go within walking distance to places. Some could go anywhere so we’d be all over the place having fun. Well, they’d be having fun and I’d be the weirdo right by them taking subtle notes. Awkward. Especially the times when it was a dad and it looked like we were on a family date. Or hanging out at my university and seeing my classmates and friends. Or when I’d run into them around town. Or if they happened to be neighbors of someone I was on a date with.
In spite of all the weirdness, for the most part it was an okay internship. There were a few times, though, when I didn’t feel particularly safe. Each of those times was when the parent was driving while agitated. Driving 100 mph on the freeway during a rainstorm with a guy blasting “Cop Killer” didn’t give me the warm fuzzies. Neither did the lady who was taking me back to the facility after dropping her kids off and yelling about how she was not an unfaithful woman. Even though those things only happened a couple of times, it was enough for me to realize that I hated it. My boss got screamed at all the time. I didn’t want to work in a place that I felt unsafe. There are already a few people in my life that make me feel that way and I didn’t want to add to that list.
So why would I consider that internship a success? Because it helped me realize what I don’t want to pursue. I’m really glad that I didn’t pursue a Masters in Social Work. I think it is a very noble field that I would have done terribly in. Actually, I would have done well in it, but I think I would have hated being so stressed out.
I did another internship at the State Mental Hospital and loved it. I played games and hung out with the patients, who had varying mental health issues. Most of them were schizophrenic and I loved being there. They were so sweet and fun to be around. That internship taught me that clinical psychology wouldn’t be as bad as I thought. I ended up not pursuing it further, but it helped me to see another option that I had previously dismissed.
Internships are extremely valuable for helping you understand what you do/don’t like, but also to give you incredible experience and connections with people. I have a few people I can go to for letters of recommendation, which is helpful because at least half of my major classes were taught by grad students rather than professors. EVERY job interview I have ever been on has asked how I deal with high stress situations and people. Telling interviewers about that 100 mph drive with an angry dad is always a winner.
How do you find an internship? There are a few ways.
- Listen in class! There were always internships mentioned in class. Professors needed research assistants all the time. They also let grad students come in and mention places they work that needed interns. That’s how I got involved with the court supervision.
- Go to your department office. They will likely have a board or notebook with internship information related to your department.
- Visit the campus internship office. Your school may have a general internship office, so stop by that one too. You’ll probably see some of the same ones your department office has, but you can also look for internships not directly related to what you’re studying. Whaaat? There is so much opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration and you can learn a lot! I wish I wouldn’t have been such a chicken and been more involved in business-related internships. My university created a new center for innovation with a focus on interdisciplinary collaboration. They have done some pretty cool stuff!
- Ask your friends and classmates who they are interning with. People are pretty open with their experiences and you can find a lot of opportunities you weren’t aware of.
- Contact places you’d like to intern with. If there’s a professor you’d like to work with, go to his or her office. If it’s a company, go to their website or call their HR office to find out what the internship opportunities are. Don’t be afraid of calling places to get what you want!
Because I believe they are so valuable, here are a few tips in regards to internships:
- Do more than one internships in your college career. Longevity with one is great, but try to do at least two.
- Seek variety in your placements. Even within a specific field, you can find different settings and learn more about that field.
- Don’t be a slacker! The people you’re working for can be future employers, references, or can help you make connections. Show them you’re worth hiring, referring, or networking with!
- Learn all you can. This goes along with the previous tip. You have an excellent opportunity to learn from professionals in the field. Your professors may be very research oriented rather than application oriented. Both are good, but if you’re not seeing the application in the classroom then you can ask at your internship. Take the initiative and learn more than what you’re getting at school.
There are some competitive internships out there–don’t be nervous to apply for them! Go big! There is no reason why you can’t get some kind of internship and any experience is better than none! They can be a very rewarding experience that will enrich your academic experience and your resume. Get looking!