Some people and summer people: Perspectives on unpaid internships

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Photo courtesy of Stock Xchng

Some people are interning, summer people are not.

I am some people this summer, interning at a local radio station. Although I constantly sweat through my cardigans from performance anxiety and wasn’t thrilled to trip on the sidewalk while bustling around with my big tape recorder, I am happy to be working in the industry – even for free.

And before you perform a suspicious sniff for brown unmentionables, let me say that I’m not sucking up. My mom’s the only one who reads my stuff.

At my internship, I’ve been given a chance to hobnob with professionals and learn the trade. Because I’m passionate about online investigatory expeditions, saying the F word in an office environment, and to-do lists, interning as an associate producer has shown me what a perfect fit the job actually is. It’s where I hope to carve a career out for myself, with a salary that will enable me to buy those pre-bagged, baby carrots and cast those lowly, single ‘rots from my serf days aside.

To supplement my non-income, I moonlight as an editor and a waitress (though rarely at the same time). I’ve also been known to turn my contact dailies into monthlies for budgetary reasons. I’m fortunate that I am not alone in my struggle, and have received help at various times from my boyfriend, parents, student loan, and the kind folks at the student health clinic, where trial pills are free.

I’m super poor, yes. But I had to go back to school: my spirit was getting spanked into oblivion at various dead-end jobs. Losing hope in humanity in exchange for financial survival is far worse than working for free at an internship where I love everything I do. And on the bright side, crying on the phone to VISA starts to come naturally after the first three times.

So. I’m happily placed in an internship, juggling some odds-and-ends jobs. As a “mature” student at BCIT, I expected to work hard, be tired, and sweat a lot in public. So far, all three are coming true

Here’s the thesis of this ramble: Lately, I’ve been doing some rather depressing reading about internships. They’ve been painted as exploitative, and by some accounts, illegal*. Young and old alike are shocked: Relevant experience is necessary to get a job in [desired field]? Working hard without thanks? No flip-flops?! WTF!!! #omg.

Although some placements can be blindingly boring, pointless, (and, yes, exploitative if shackles and hamster wheels serve as office equipment) I still believe internships are valuable. It’s an opportunity to see the industry for real. You can make connections and list experience on your resume that does not say, “T-Shirt Folder, GAP, 2004-2010”.

The reality is that these days, shit is competitive. Hobbes would say “nasty” and I’d nod in solemn agreement as I adjusted my wig and ruff. There are many applying for few jobs, and experience is only the smallest of stepping stones: you need to be more talented, brighter, and harder working than your hundreds of competitors. It also helps if you have straight teeth.

So at the end of the day, even if you feel like it’s unfair: what do you recommend? It’s how things are because the world is filled amazing people with access to Microsoft Resume Builder and email. People like me need internships, and frankly, I’m thankful every time someone throws me a bone. If legislation is proposed outlawing internships in Canada, I will be the first against it… I’ll never get where I want to go without them.