Dear fellow interns of the world,
You deserve more, and I don’t just mean monetarily (BUT THAT TOO).
You are a skilled human, probably with a university-level degree or two, and you deserve to be treated like a valuable asset to someone’s company or organization or project because you are doing a task or tasks that they need someone to do.
I know it may feel like your “employer” is doing YOU a favor by “letting”(!) you have this valuable or prestigious title and work experience, but it is in fact the other way around. You are helping them out, you are doing them a favor.
Not only should interns like us be compensated for our time and hard work, but we should also be treated with respect.
“That is why internship culture is so deeply flawed – being poorly paid is synonymous with being poorly valued, and it’s given rise to a wider culture of denigration around internships.” –Kaavya Asoka
If you are required to travel or relocate for your internship, your costs should be covered in addition to being compensated for your time and work (not as a part of that compensation). You should not be asked to live in conditions worse than what your CEO/PI/Person in Charge would live in him or herself.
There was a big scandalous dramatic thing recently, in which a UN intern was found to be living in a tent because he couldn’t afford accommodation in Geneva and his internship was unpaid. UN bodies are notorious for not paying interns, limiting the internship pool to people who can afford living in Geneva for three months (and really who can do that??). Interns are not happy about the situation of not being compensated for their work at the UN but – and here’s the baffling part to me – they still take the internships.
I was that person once who was willing to take an unpaid internship (for me it was at The Carter Center), and I quickly justified my decision with the fact that I could live at home with my parents and therefore didn’t have many costs to cover anyways.
But now I know it’s all bullshit.
Fellow interns, the lower the standards we accept for ourselves and still turn up and do great work, the lower the standard of compensation and respect we and future generations of interns will receive. As interns, we may not be able to change the supply, but we can change the demand.
I say, one thing you can do to help interns get what they actually deserve for their time and efforts is to not accept internships that are either unpaid or underpaid; do not accept internships that do not offer adequate living conditions; and stand up for yourself if you are challenged on any of these.
You are not being demanding. You are not being entitled. You are asking for what you deserve.
The more often we only accept internships that are ethical in their treatment towards interns, the more organizations/companies/whoever will have to readjust what they think they can get away with.
Plus: Guess what? Studies show paid interns are more likely to be employed afterwards than unpaid interns AND they have higher average salaries later on. Just sayin’.
For more on interns:
Interns aren’t just cheap labor to abuse: they’re workers – and they deserve pay
Why Your Unpaid Internship Makes You Less Employable
I believe you are thinking from a very American or developed world perspective. You would be surprised as to how much interns or even full time workers from developing countries are. My experience of working with a NGO as full time worker, showed me that a “white” intern from a university working in india commanded more respect than a lot of full time workers, who clearly were more knowledgeable and experienced in that particular area. And clearly they earned more (even as research grants) than the full time workers made.
I had that experience, and thats one of the reason why i decided to pursue an education here cause i figured without a US degree, it would be almost impossible to rise to any leadership.
Hi Nitin! How are you? That’s very interesting to hear – you’re right, my perspective is by default American.
I definitely don’t think interns should have privileges at the expense of full-time in-country employees. Everyone should be compensated and everyone should be respected. I think the issue you raise of foreign intern v in-country staff is a separate entity, worthy of its own blog post/discussion.