Internships offer popular alternative
"I didn't graduate with the highest expectations," Suzanne Merkelson '09 wrote in a blog post for On Point Radio with Tom Ashbrook on October 19. "The economy started to tank at the very beginning of senior year. My peers didn't spend senior spring the way our friends in the Class of 2008 did: nervously trying on business suits and driving down from Maine to New York or Boston for job interviews. Job interviews [for us] were few and far between."
For many members of the class of 2009, applying for an internship provided an appealing alternative to searching for a job in the struggling economy. Upon leaving Mayflower Hill last spring, students in the graduating class veered from what was once the more traditional post-grad path in order to gain exposure in their specific fields of interest. Although the economic downturn meant that students often agreed to work for nothing, businesses were just as willing to hire young, motivated interns as they were before the recession, Erica Humphrey, assistant director and internship coordinator at the career center, said.
"Businesses seem to value this type of service even more so in tough economic times, since an organization can often get 'free' labor while giving a student the opportunity to gain valuable work experience and career exploration," she said.
Merkelson, the former co-editor-in-chief of the Echo and an international studies major, decided to live in Boston and intern for OnPoint with Tom Ashbrook, a radio program she learned about last fall.
After appearing twice on round-table segments for the show, Merkelson talked to the producers about arranging a summer internship at the company. After the recession hit, however, she decided to work elsewhere for the summer and to complete the unpaid internship this fall while holding three part-time jobs. Despite the monetary constraints of her job, Merkelson values the exposure to the journalism industry and views her internship as an educational opportunity that allows her to pursue her passion.
"I want to work in journalism in the future," she said. "I can survive right now working part-time and doing what I love for free. If anything, it's like I'm continuing my education for free."
After this internship ends in December, Merkelson will apply for another round of internships, possibly in New York.
Director of the Career Center Roger Woolsey, encourages students and recent graduates to "continue to think creatively and outside the box...it may not be your dream job right away, but every job acts as a springboard to get where you want to be."
Elizabeth O'Neill '09 spent last summer in New York with a paid editorial internship at The Huffington Post, and now works as an associate editor at the Sheep Meadow poetry press. As an English major, O'Neill's internship allowed her to pursue her interests and gain further insight into the world of journalism.
"Full-time jobs for recent graduates in the journalism [and] publishing field are few and far between," she said. "A lot of people go to publishing school or journalism school, but that didn't appeal to me right after graduating. I wanted to start right away, and an internship can be a really good way to break into the scene."
Through the internship, O'Neill got a chance to showcase her journalistic skills while enjoying a variety of privileges.
"I could, and can still, blog about whatever I wanted. I got to go to premiere screenings to review movies, got invites to fashion shows during fashion week in September, stuff like that. And the people who work there are so smart and young and interesting."
However, when it came time to apply for a fall position, O'Neill and her fellow interns once again felt the strain of the economy.
"While they had openings at The Huffington Post, they didn't promote any of the interns, even though most of us were in serious need of jobs," she said. "Meanwhile, us recent grads were scrambling to figure out how to pay rent."
Joanna Fisher '09 majored in anthropology and decided to take an unpaid internship for the Folkways program at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. for the fall. Folkways is a nonprofit record label which seeks to promote cultural diversity through sound. Fisher also worked at the museum during her summers in college.
"I had already been an intern a couple summers ago in a different facet of the Smithsonian, so I knew that internships here were worthwhile," she said. "Since the Smithsonian is ostensibly an educational organization, it prides itself on offering internships where you learn actual skills and are a full fledged member of 'the team.'"
Fisher views her internship as an opportunity to pursue an area of study that she enjoys while gaining experience that will benefit her career in the years to come.
"In many fields, an internship is de facto required to get your foot in the door. Working in the arts, and especially musicological research where I work, is a difficult field to find a career in, so I decided to find an internship in the field," she said.
After her four-month commitment at the Smithsonian ends, Fisher will teach history at the White Mountain School in Bethlehem, NH starting in January.
As this year's graduating class begins searching for job opportunities, Merkelson urges it to not undermine the value of internships.
"Take your dream job and work there for free. Right now is a time of our lives to experience different things and really appreciate the fact that we have few responsibilities," she said. "I would encourage the Class of 2010 not to look at it as negative. Maybe it's a blessing in disguise."
Woolsey offers similar advice for current students. "What we need to convey to all Colby students is the importance of doing two, three, even four internships during their time [here]...Employers take applicants into consideration who have done more internships because these students understand responsibility and the culture of the organizations they've been a part of," he said.