Regardless of your major, you’ve probably been told by an academic adviser several times that an internship is a valuable, irreplaceable experience that will help prepare you for a career in your field of study. The search for an internship that follows that conversation will most likely be a quick reminder that in this economy, you probably won’t get paid for your work. So then what is an internship- experience or slave labor?
According to a New York Times article, unpaid internships are growing quickly, along with the number of people who find the practice to be unfair to interns, or illegal.
Many say unpaid internships are only for the rich, and exclude the not-so-wealthy students who cannot afford to spend a summer not working for money. Others say internships force students to do mindless, busy work that has no educational value. According to the New York Times, officials in Oregon, California, and other states believe unpaid internships are not only unethical, but that they are illegal, violating minimum wage laws. Regardless of the reason, these skeptics agree that when a student is not being paid for work, it should be called slave labor rather than an internship.
Southern, as well as many other universities, try to solve this problem by giving students course credit for working as an unpaid intern. Essentially you pay SCSU and you can work a certain number of hours for a certain number of course credits. Some skeptics and students, however, say this means you’re not only not getting paid for your work, but you actually have to pay to work.
This summer I worked my first 150-hour internship at a newspaper outside of Boston and, unlike critics, I didn’t find it to be anything like slave labor. Is it annoying to essentially pay to work for free? Of course it is, but as my adviser said, the experience was worth it.
My bosses at my internship did not assign me mindless work as I had feared, but instead gave me the same work they assigned to employed reporters. They were willing to allow me to make my own mistakes, but were always able to offer their advice and support when I needed it. I learned a great deal by writing for them, but more importantly, I met many people in my field that can act as references and sources for me in the future.
This summer I learned that there is a huge difference between sitting in a classroom and actually working in your field. An internship can help you see this difference. While I do believe Southern will prepare you for your career, an internship can teach you things sitting in a classroom can’t, no matter how good your professor is.
My advice is that if you can afford an internship, go for it, even if it is unpaid. Let professionals in your field teach you everything they know, and strive to work hard and network yourself constantly. Take it all in.
After all, you are paying for it. While it will definitely be a momentary low in your bank account, someday it will be worth it.