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Monday, July 1, 2013

The Intern Experience

If you have ever had an internship, you may have mixed reviews on your experience. Some of you may have been paid and received a valuable work experience. Others of you may have been unpaid and grabbed the boss’s coffee every morning. Well, recently, a New York federal court has ruled that a group of interns should have been paid for the work they did on the movie Black Swan. The Department of Labor has introduced guidelines as to when interns cannot be paid. But this new court ruling takes it even further. Internships must now have some sort of educational component beyond school credit or work experience.
Get more information on the court ruling here!

This summer I am interning here at North Country Public Radio. So far, my experience has been spectacular. I have been doing anything and everything from morning post-production of web content to actually reporting and getting stories online. On top of getting this great work experience, I am getting paid and receive free housing on campus! I consider myself pretty lucky, but there are a lot of other interns out there who do not have it this good. In fact, some interns have it pretty bad.

Photo: Sean MacEntee

“I had one from 2002-2003. The first time I went to school at SUNY Canton, I got an internship through the IT program. It was not paid, but it took money off of my tuition. I was hoping to at least touch a computer, but the "manager" made me answer phones and go wash his car... And I was technically drastically underpaid, but I wasn't "employed" - so it was “ok”,” writes Danielle Cunningham of Massena.
This is a prime example of a paid internship with no educational benefit.

She was working through the IT program and didn’t even touch a computer… Anyone else see a problem here?

“I graduated May 2012 with a degree in Graphic and Multimedia Design from SUNY Canton. My senior year, an internship or extensive senior project was required. I landed an internship with Lake Placid school district that spanned from January to May. They wanted me to completely redesign their webpage. I met with the superintendent a couple times in March and submitted 5 template designs. By the middle of April, I hadn't gotten a decision. I tried to get in contact with my internship supervisor and found out that he was let go by the district. By now it was the middle of April and all I had to show were 5 website templates. My internship wasn’t much more than a bust. Here I sit more than a year later without even getting a call back for an interview on all of the applications I have sent out, both within my major field and outside of it,” says Bridget Webber.

Thanks to a lack of communication and complete disregard for this intern, she is still searching for a job today. The time she spent at her internship was a waste. She could have had a job making money or at an internship where they had their priorities straight. Unfortunately, the poor management and leadership of others have left this intern jobless.

Students count on their internships getting them somewhere. The point of an internship is to help prepare you for a certain career field or at least give you some professional work experience before you start job hunting.
Though these internships were a bust, there are positive internships out there like mine. Some are paid, some allow you to obtain course credit, and some just provide educational value. It would be nice to have all three in one, but as long as you are getting something out of it, it’s certainly worth your time.

“I'm getting minimal course credit (I think SLU should give more than .25) but I don't think I deserve a salary. The experience I'm getting for my age and education level is incredible, so I see that as an investment in my future,” says St. Lawrence University student Paige Randal.

“I have a paid internship with my church (unaffiliated with my college) and even though I'd like to get credit for it, the educational benefits, experience and lessons I'm learning have made it worth while,” says Cazenovia College student Leigha Burkhalter.

“I have found it [interning] to be an interesting experience and one that has a decent amount of educational components attached. Although the work is basic and at times boring, the staff meetings and other talks/events I am able to attend allow me to broaden my understanding of the NGO world/non-profit sector as well as the issues that come along with global giving. As far as being unpaid and how it affects me, if I'm honest, it doesn't. I am lucky enough to have the financial resources where interning for no pay does not have to factor into my decision-making. The only thing that I consider is if it is a good/interesting opportunity for me in my field and in my twenty-one year old vision of my career path. I'm not getting paid, but it isn't an issue and I’m enjoying what I'm doing,” says St. Lawrence University student Maxwell Miller, who is interning at The Synergos Institute in NYC.

These three interns fit each situation. Paige is receiving credit, Leigha is getting paid, and Maxwell is receiving tremendous educational/work experience. And even though the two girls are getting credit/payment, they are grateful for the educational components and site those as being what makes their internships worthwhile.
The big question is, what kind of impact will the new court ruling have on the life of all interns? Will it change the landscape?

Photo: SalFalko

“I think the court ruling is a very important for interns because finding an internship in the first place is difficult and when you are paying for college 8 months of the year and a summer internship is unpaid, there is little time to make money. Also, interns shouldn’t be the ones doing the unwanted work of full time employees, they should be learning what it takes to be a part of the “real world” so they are prepared for life after college. Having a paid internship can also increase the interns devotion to work harder because they’re earning money and the internship gives he/she the sense of understanding what it is like to work 8-5 Monday-Friday and receive a paycheck for the hard work,” says Matthew Santello of Saint Anselm College.

“From what I’ve experienced the likelihood of you doing some stupid superfluous work definitely goes down [If you have a paid internship]. Many companies aren’t willing to pay an intern if they aren’t going to be doing anything valuable for the company. I think that the amount of meaningful internships or the chance of getting a more meaningful internship will occur if it is going to be paid [Due to the court ruling]. But, the overall amount being offered will probably go down. I think it’s probably going to cut a lot of slack out of the whole equation for potential interns, but at the same time there will be those few [internships] that are unpaid that are very meaningful experiences, but won’t be able to continue,” says Dartmouth University student Frohman Anderson.”

Every intern out there shares a different experience, whether they are good or bad. What do you think about the court ruling? Should this be seen as a victory for interns or a defeat for smaller internship programs? How will companies react to this?