Oh, our internship “system.”
How can I describe my own experience in it without facepalming so hard that I give myself a migraine? Well, there’s very little risk of that because, chances are, if I’m thinking about the internship system, I already have one.
You’re not wrong, that’s for sure.
I’m hesitant to really jump into this conversation, because I have had paid and unpaid internships while a student, all with supervisors who treated me with respect and as a colleague. But I think this idea of “We are only as strong a profession as our greenest members” bears further examination.
There’s is a question of “privilege” in the unpaid internship. Graduate school costs a lot. If you can spend time doing an unpaid internship instead of earning money to eat off of, you’re in a fairly fortunate position. When we require resumes be padded with unpaid internships, we require that our greenest colleagues have a certain amount of privilege. Even if graduate school isn’t prohibitively expensive, taking time off from a paying job to do an unpaid internship may be the difference between pursuing the desire to be a part of this profession and not. What kind of potential are we missing out on due to that?
I’m not as familiar with the programs that require internships, so I can’t speak to that. My program had a field experience elective option where a faculty advisor, site advisor, and the student developed learning objectives and project for the semester. The field experience could be paid or unpaid. While it doesn’t fix the problem, it does assure that the internship provides a useful addition to the student’s resume at the end of things, and I heard very few horror stories from that system, so maybe that could be an alternate option?
However, I think, unfortunately, unpaid internships are here to stay. IT would be great if every talented, driven person out there could get paid for their time. But budgets are tight, and there is a glut of people eager for experience, with or without pay. I don’t think our more experienced colleagues should be villanized for taking advantage of free labor. However, I think they should take better advantage of graduate student work by utilizing their knowledge and skills to get projects done and develop those students’ skills.
Sorry for the ramble, I have a lot of thoughts on this, but organizing them is difficult because it’s quite complicated!