The Fault in the Summer Internship

by Lin Yuhan /
Lin Yuhan's picture
Sep 20, 2014 / 0 comments

As a rising senior undergraduate student political science major, I felt the urgency to secure an internship for the last summer of my undergraduate career. Therefore, I jumped on the bandwagon in Washington, D.C., the most politically driven and motivated place in this nation. I worked hard to make connections, and revised my resume and cover letter to finally land in an unpaid internship in a fairly prominent political organization, interning as a legislative assistant.


Washington, D.C. Memorial in evening. From The Fault in the Summer Internship

Washington, D.C. Memorial in evening. Wikimedia Commons: Snty-tact


Internship Purpose: Growth

My previous internship experience was as a campaign manager in a local social justice organization in Pittsburgh during spring semester. I was valued by my supervisors; sometimes, I even assumed that I was over-valued because I was able to be that one person to make the ultimate decision for the project, and I was able to receive enough spiritual as well as financial support from my organization in order to sustain my project. Therefore, based on my previous internship experience in Pittsburgh, I started my summer internship in D.C. full of enthusiasm and aspiration. I envisioned myself stepping into a professional and political world to make an impact - not only to the organization, also to my own growth.


Internship Realities

Before heading to Washington, D.C. for my summer internship, I had heard some of my friends saying how much they detested their roles in companies as summer interns. Most of the time, their main tasks were to answer phone calls, make copies, organize documents, etc. I didn’t take their complaints as truly serious, because I believed that without those copies the intern made, the company could not function well. I was absolutely fine with doing tedious and mundane tasks, as long as those were not the whole of my internship.

Without a doubt, the first few days in the organization, I was assigned to make copies, sort papers in chronological order, type written documents, etc. I finished the tasks and tried to fulfill them as best as I could. Even when it came to making copies, I always divided the copies into different categories, and straightened them as much possible before heading to my boss.

Yet, my endurance was only temporary when I realized that there was no stable and sustainable project I was assigned. Among all the work I’d done in the office, the most intellectual task was emailing to more than 30 legislative assistances to make appointments. How Ironic!

Toward the end of my internship, I was literally counting down the days until I could go home instead of spending money on expensive rent in D.C., doing jobs that other higher-up level staffs don’t bother to do, while not getting paid.

It got to be exhausting. I had a very negative attitude when I woke up in the morning and thought about the work that I needed to do that day. The only thing that made me feel a little bit better was by talking to other interns in D.C. who had exactly the same experience as I did. (I am only comparing myself to those who have similar humanity majors. For instance, people who work in non-profit, social justice, and political organizations.) In talking with some of them, it seems that my situation was normal!


What is the Nature of a Summer Internship?

Is that the nature of the summer internship, then? If so, shouldn’t we rename the summer intern to summer free menial labor? To be honest, I loved living in Washington, D.C.; I loved the culture and the interesting friends who came from all walks of life. The internship, well, no.  I am not satisfied, at all. The city of D.C. taught me more valuable lessons than the internship itself.


Change the System

I encourage all the supervisors, mentors, managers, and recruiters to take a minute and think how much time, money, and work that the interns spend to obtain that one internship, and while you are asking them to finish certain tasks, please ask yourself, how much time is it going to save me by asking the interns to finish it? And most importantly, what would the interns learn today?

I am not saying that interns should never take care of tedious office tasks, like making copies. No, I would love to help out with anything the office needs, as long this is not the only type of task I have to fulfill in my role. My hard work and enthusiasm that I devote to making those copies can only be temporary unless I love the job. I don’t think anyone has sufficient endurance for making copies for the whole two months of a typical internship. I have worked hard for three years in college and I am eligible to do something more important; even if it requires extra learning and time, I am willing! I guess the worst thing from an internship is the feeling of hopelessness, and that is exactly what I’ve gotten from my summer internship.



Lin Yuhan is the Culture and Politics Editor at Wandering Educators, and a college student at the University of Pittsburgh