• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Internships, internships, internships…

ByOlivia Latimer

Mar 28, 2023

The start of the new year and new semester is not only the time for new beginnings and novel life plans, but it is also internship application season. The careers hub is sending out emails about a plethora of opportunities, there are ads popping up on news articles, and it seems everyone is talking about the internship they have already obtained, or their potential goals from IBM to their dad’s mates’ business. They currently seem to be taking up a lot of space, but why is everyone so fixated on internships?

In today’s environment of hyper productivity, just attaining good grades at university doesn’t feel enough. This is especially the case at a university such as Edinburgh where there is new initiative, society, or charity event at every corner. Everyone seems to be doing the most, and everyone seems to already have an internship under their belt or have one lined up. And with the added pressure of stale mate for many internships as a result of Covid where more than half of students lost their internships, many students feel as though they need to make up for two years of ‘missing out’ through attaining as much experience as possible before entering the bleak reality of the adult world. But is this for career enhancement, or just for the sake of it?

At times it can seem that students are participating in extracurricular activities in order to bulk up their CVs with a profusion of achievements and experiences in order to get an internship. In turn, the internship is added to the CV, to bolster it when leaving university and entering the job market. It seems that many students are prioritising their professional portfolio rather than taking these opportunities and fulfilling these extra curriculars for self-enjoyment and passion. And this seems to extend into people’s desire to acquire as many internships as possible. But is this then creating a toxic atmosphere around internships at university, as they are now seen as imperative rather than just for those who are very career driven and have a clear path they want to follow? 

With a vast and growing number of students embarking on long summers of paper copying and coffee runs at the hands of big company bosses for 6 to 12 weeks of their summer holidays, do they actually feel that this is bettering them? Speaking with a portion of students who have taken on internships has illustrated the increasing feeling of needing an internship to feel adequate. A third-year geography student who undertook an internship in Bristol over the summer, stated: “I just did it as it felt like a good idea, I didn’t get to produce any material and a lot of the time I was doing menial tasks. It did make me decide I no longer want to work in marketing, but it didn’t aid me professionally really.”  It seems that learning what you don’t want from an internship is often a valuable experience for many students as it can give a realistic insight into various workplaces. A third-year theology student who carried out an internship at a consultancy firm in London over the last summer claimed that “although the internship wasn’t the most stimulating it did really help me in terms of professionalism and improving my time management which now, I feel like I now know how to balance.” These experiences of students display the reality that internships may not be paramount in fulfilling career desires but can instil transferrable professional skills, and give a real insight into the working world. Speaking with an employer from a company that hires many graduates illustrated this: “Internships are not imperative when applying for a role, especially if they are not relevant to the role. It is important to see that people are taking initiative and have experience but ultimately it is not the defining factor when employing someone.” This can show how internships, especially summer internships, can be more beneficial for you as the individual rather than for future employers. 

Some students find their internships incomparably useful, as they have either given them unparalleled professional experience, or have led to a job post-university, which in today’s recession is extremely comforting. A civil engineering student who interned for Mott Macdonald this summer affirmed that her internship has been extremely significant, as it not only gave her knowledge and skills that go beyond the lecture theatres, it also has created future job prospects: “The internship was not only really interesting, well paid and fulfilling, but it also enabled me to network with other departments in the company which has set me up with future potential jobs in the company and I am now returning next summer for another internship!”

However, some students seem to have no interest in internships and do not see them as vital in their professional trajectory. A fine art student told The Student: “I have worked in a gallery before, but there are not many opportunities in the art world that you can get on merit, I often find it is who you know.” This not only highlights how there are certain areas of work where it is hard to bolster the CV, but also how there is a stark issue with sometimes it is not what you know but who you know, leaving many students at a loss. Additionally, with 48% of undergraduate internships being unpaid, we can see how unattainable these internships are for many students, as they simply cannot afford to do unpaid work, especially in today’s cost of living crisis. However, here in Edinburgh there are initiatives available such as the Insights Programme for those who cannot afford to do unpaid work experience, and are not from an area where there are lots of opportunities. This Programme gives the opportunity to widening participation students to work with Edinburgh alumnae in any field they desire, providing the opportunity to work in major cities such as London and Boston, with all costs covered. This provides a bit of help bridging the gap for the many students who have never before been able to access internship and work experience opportunities. 

With many submissions already closed and many more soon, internships can seem extremely relevant right now and it seems that they are on the forefront of many students’ minds. With the career’s hub, employment fairs and initiatives such as the Insights Programme it seems that the topic of internships is difficult to avoid, but are students putting too much importance on the significance of internships? Although there is a lot to be said for the value of internships, and it is evident that many students benefit from their experiences, perhaps the status quo can at times be problematic and encourage students to take on unpaid work that isn’t even relevant to their career prospects. Will internships become less pertinent in the course of getting a job as students seem to grasp experiences from different places as the job market seems to shift into a less traditional atmosphere?

Summer Internship Program Closing Celebration and Final Presentations” by MDGovpics is licensed under CC BY 2.0.