In Praise of Internships

In this latest instalment of Lessons from the Agora, Wise ASSC Intern Ellen O’Brien describes her experience of interning while at university.

To most university students, internships are not the most exciting prospect.  Who wants to go through the tedium of finding a position, the rigmarole of applying, the anxiety of interviews and, on occasion, the sorrow of rejection?

And who wants to add more commitments to an already overloaded schedule or divert precious time away from rest and relaxation, especially when the benefits seem so nebulous and placement horror stories abound?

Unless someone is in a course that requires them to complete an internship, the odds are they’ll finish their degree without real-world experience in the field they have trained for. Even if they meant to do an internship, time has a way of vanishing without giving notice, and it’s hard to find opportunities at the last minute and it’s even harder once you’ve graduated.

If the title of this piece isn’t a dead giveaway, I’m here to tell you that internships are worth the extra effort, and they’re not as daunting as you might think.

My Experience

At the start of 2018, I undertook a 140-hour internship. I discovered the opportunity on La Trobe’s CareerHub, a website that gathers job, placement and volunteering opportunities into one place for students. Lots of other websites like Seek and LinkedIn also post opportunities. The position I found neatly combined my two main areas of study and provided the opportunity for me to talk to people who were working in the exact roles that I was interested in.

Despite an extremely busy schedule, I wrote up a cover letter, fixed up my CV and sent off my application. A few weeks later, I was thrilled to be offered the position.

Like most internships, it was unpaid, but the opportunity was too good to turn down, and it counted as a subject towards my degree. Because it was science-based, I completed the Work Integrated Learning subject SHE3FRW through the science faculty.  This meant that I only needed to do three subjects the next semester, and that I also received additional support from the university during my internship.

Other faculties have similar subjects, like MAC3INT and ASC3WPP, so there’s probably a way you can combine an internship with your degree: Make sure you look into it. There are even some opportunities to receive scholarships or financial aid for certain positions, although this depends on the company, faculty and the vagaries of life and luck.

Although some internships can result in you twiddling your thumbs and making coffee for the higher ups, I found myself in a friendly, challenging and stimulating environment.

I was able to try my hand at working in a lab, helping with research, writing content and talking to people from all sections of the company. I was learning something new every hour and I cannot describe how beneficial this was.

A lot of this turned out to be invaluable for my universities studies, as well, and gave me an added advantage when I went back to class and could use my new skills and knowledge to tackle my assignments.

Although the cliché is true that an internship looks good on your CV, the greatest benefit for me was when I realised that I didn’t want to pursue a certain career.  The company employed two genetic counsellors and because I was interested in this field, they discussed their working life with me. I discovered that there were many ethical, social and lifestyle considerations that I hadn’t fully considered, and I realised that I was probably better suited to a different career.  

This prevented me from pursuing genetic counselling at a postgraduate level and spurred me on to consider different fields, like research, medicine and journalism. Although I’m still not sure which direction I will take, I have saved years of life and study by discovering early that genetic counselling was not the right fit for me.  

I was also lucky enough to be offered a casual position at the company after I finished my internship, and I have been working there ever since. I feel extremely lucky to have had this opportunity and I hope I can encourage you to pursue an internship during your degree, so that you might experience the same luck!

Tune in next week to read about my reflections on my second internship — at this blog! And remember to check out the La Trobe Student’s website for more information on internships and Work Integrated Learning options.