I’m sure many of you have had an older person tell you, ‘You should intern! I know it’s hard, but it’s totally worth it!’ I’m also certain many of you have turned your nose up at the (mostly) unpaid experience, believing you can’t afford to live for free—time is money! But trust me, there is more to interning than free labour and endless coffee runs, despite what the movies tell you.
I’m a huge believer in the idea that your degree is what you make of it. In my case, studying a Bachelor of Public Relations and realising early on that opportunities can be limited, I knew straight away that I would be working hard to get anywhere. It’s that type of thinking that got me involved in some amazing projects from my first year such as launching a book, becoming a journalist for a magazine that reviews bands (which got me some sweet free tickets to gigs) and manning the media centre for the Adelaide International Three Day Event which eventually led me on the path to interning.
Many degrees demand some sort of work experience as part of the package of skills they teach you. Mine is no different, however the scope can vary between courses. My best friend will spend her time in clinics and hospitals on her way to enlightenment as a physiotherapist, while I can spend my time with absolutely anyone who uses a communications team to engage with employees or the outside world. Obviously I have a lot more scope but that makes it even more difficult to choose.
The first excellent point I would like to make is, you get to try before you buy into a career or industry. Since I already work for the State Government, and had a taste of corporate communications through other means, I knew from the get-go that I wanted to learn a little bit more about non-profit organisations particularly in Indigenous affairs which is an area I have been passionate about since my mother studied archaeology. This led me to The Aurora Internship Program, which is who I interned through.
The program is dedicated to connecting students and graduates with internship opportunities in a wide range of Indigenous focused organisations, particularly relating to native title, advocacy and social justice. It’s all about getting students and graduates who want and need experience, matched with organisations that need their particular skill set in areas such as law, anthropology and some other social sciences—in my case, it was in communications. From the application process to the interview, it’s at the same level as applying for a job so the experience starts before you even begin.
I got to hang around with the South Australian Native Title Service’s (SANTS) communication team who are fantastic people. SANTS help to facilitate the discussion and management of native title between the communities and the government in addition to a whole range of other legal and service functions. While I was there I got to attend NAIDOC Week’s award ceremony, participate in the NAIDOC Week march, write for their newspaper Aboriginal Way as well as sit in on interviews with an incredible elder from the Riverland and learn how their team functions with everyone else.
Which leads me to the next great thing—you get to meet people who are already where you’d like to be. After I landed the internship, I was working with people who already had my dream career and had to figure out how to get there too. I got to see the good (the work was so varied), the bad (communication between so many groups of people can be frustrating) and the ugly (I hope I never have to transcribe another interview).
It was fantastic to get a realistic and in-depth look at the role minus my rose-tinted glasses. I learnt so much by watching, completing work and interacting with the team.
That leads to my next point—you might find your plan for your future changes or evolves. I never had a real concrete plan for my future, but this certainly helped me decide what I wanted to get out of my degree. I now know that I definitely want to be working for a non-profit in some capacity when I finish up my undergraduate study later this year. The work is challenging, but it is working towards a greater cause.
Don’t get me wrong, being unpaid is difficult, but if you’re really impressive, you might get asked back and if you’re really lucky, you might land yourself a job! This didn’t happen to me, but my supervisor was one of the lucky ones. She found herself employed after interning with Aurora herself, proving that it’s not what you know, but who you know. You’ll find that post-internship job offers are a very real thing which should only emphasise how important the internships themselves can be for your future career.
I believe everyone should give an internship a go, get a hands-on education about working in their chosen field and try something new. You’ll meet people who can mentor and support you into transitioning to the next stage of your post-graduate career, maybe even finding yourself with a desire to work in a completely new field. That’s okay too.
And guess what? I didn’t get coffee for anyone. Not even once.
Words by Zoe Butler
Image by Meg Bielby