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 unpaid internships are here to stay. There will always be people eager for experience, with or without pay, and for the foreseeable future, budgets are tight right now for archives. 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!
While I’m not officially archives I think Museum Studies is close enough to talk about taking unpaid internships.
Disclaimer: I’m only a BA at the moment, although my Museum Studies program requires two internships for a total of six credits which is about $4,362 credits wise.
I’m finishing up my first for credits (or paying) internship this week, so I won’t speak to my experiences in interning so much as the process of putting in 140-160 hours of my free time into something I was paying for in order to get experience. I don’t mind getting experience. I love interning, it’s taught me a lot! But trying to be an intern for 140 hours, and trying to be a full time college student and working a job (because I’m broke and need money) is hard and frustrating.
I tried to explain to a professor why internships outside of my state for the summer looked rather unfeasible due to cost - despite my interest in potentially leaving the state for the summer. But I don’t think she quite understood what I meant - “it’s difficult for most people” - is true but there’s a sliding scale here. I’m going to end up in massive debt with undergrad and that was out of my control. If Grad school can’t or won’t relieve some of its own costs, that’s it.
Zero-sum game is mostly over. It’s all well and good to be very idealistic or naive about the system, but with $42k under my belt and counting, I really do have to be choosy in how much more debt I take on. And asking for help has given me a rather harsh backlash. It’s why I’m also grateful I’m working, and have developed more general skills over the last two years. Yes, I can do curatorial work, and have worked in Archives/Collections, and yes I can and have done educational work. But I’ve also been a corporate temp, held a part time job in the lower levels of Arts Administration, and have luckily also learned some retail skills. (A recent interviewer asked what wasn’t on my resume, and I briefly commenting on some of my writing, but everything else…well, I don’t really have too much time for a whole lot else.)
What kind of people are you losing out due to cost?
I can’t say for sure yet, but it could easily be me. Anyone who isn’t upper-middle class (and let’s be honest, probably also white middle-class, although I’m certainly not the only Mexican-American in my program, or the only minority, biracial or otherwise, the field is still mostly white), stands at risk at simply being unable to. I know this. It’s unfortunate. It’s nerve wracking. But I do what I can.
In theory, I don’t mind working for free. I know the industry can’t afford it. But I’m not working for free, I’m paying my University to work for someone and then working another job in order to actually have money. It’s less about working and being unpaid as it is (for me anyways) working and paying to work when I already need money.
It’s a literal gate-fee that stands in many industries nowadays in order to break in. Even if you don’t have to pay a school credits to intern, if you have to take a free internship, you’re paying with your own money to keep yourself afloat.
That’s not a personal resentment against any one person who hires me, that’s just a simple fact of the matter. My time is split between work that makes me money, and work I pay to do (school or otherwise). If the work I pay to do outweighs the money I make I won’t be able to do it like that forever.
To compound that, I’m only a BA, so while I’ve had more or less seven or so “jobs” in the field, it likely won’t matter until I have a nice shiny M.A. to tack onto my resume.
Any field in which unpaid work and graduate level degrees are the expected norm are going to be fields which are filtered through privilege most of the time, with some exceptions. I think we can divorce that from villainizing our colleagues, coworkers, or bosses, however. It’s just how it is, although you should certainly still be treated with respect, and a bad experience is a bad experience.
I’ve just gotten slightly more busy this semester! In addition to my Curatorial Internship, my docenting (whenever it works in my schedule), my classes, and my spring break internship, I’ve just gotten hired for a new job. Whew. I’m very excited to start my training as a floor manager for ASU Gammage Theater next week and become a part of the ASU Gam Fam.
It’s exciting for a number of reasons of course! First off, I’m happy to get a little more breadth of experience in Arts Administration, even at the entry level. Gammage is also literally down the street for me, and it’s going to be great to be able to work and get a paycheck. I enjoy the atmosphere of theaters and Gammage has the added benefit of just being a really stand out building. It’s the last public commission of Frank Lloyd Wright, and is probably one of th easiest to find landmarks on campus. I’m quite fond of the place and it will be exciting to be there in the fray of all of their events and shows.
That said, I’ve completed my first summer internship application out of quite a few, and am excited to also be applying to a conference that caught my eye. In other words? I’ve been busy, busy, busy. Hopefully I can queue up more things for later.