Why you should consider an internship as part of your degree
After spending nine years as a high school teacher in Sydney the Central Coast of New South Wales and Japan, I decided to move to Melbourne to embark on a new adventure.
I’m now studying the Executive Master of Arts (EMA) at the University of Melbourne, looking to gain valuable leadership and management expertise, creative and ethical thinking skills and a humanities-grounded worldview. Eventually, I plan to transition back in to the world of education, either as a department head in a high school or in an organisation that works broadly in education through some other means.
In order to build my skillset further, I’ve taken advantage of the internship program available to EMA students and have so far undertaken two internships as part of my studies:
The first was at the Asia Education Foundation (AEF), which is part of the University of Melbourne’s Asialink. At AEF, my job was to design a new template for online travel companion documents for participants in AEF’s overseas study tours.
The second was at the Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF), where I helped develop an evaluation framework for their annual Schools Program. I researched the wide-ranging and long-term impacts of the program on the kids who participated, looked at the benefits on childhood literacy, and assessed its performance against government targets.
I was lucky in that I found out about the Writers Festival internship from a talk given by a MWF staff member during my one of my EMA subjects, Professional Communication. During the talk, she mentioned two internships that MWF was currently hiring for, and I approached her after to discuss the possibility of applying. We met later to look over some more details, and pretty soon dates were locked in and details confirmed.
The transition from fulltime working to fulltime study was relatively easy and painless for me. I was nervous that I’d forgotten how to study and construct essays and assignments, as it had been 10 years since I was last at uni. Although I found the assignments challenging, I coped well and I found that, since working fulltime, I’ve actually become a lot more productive when I study!
Similarly, transitioning into my internships, I was quite nervous about how I’d perform in my first workplace that wasn’t a high school. However, I found that I was able to adapt very quickly to the organisations’ cultures, systems and expectations. In part I think this is because of my previous work experience, but I also credit the highly rewarding experiences I have gained through my EMA studies.
In particular, I found that the project management skills I’ve gained through my EMA were highly relevant and helpful to both internships. Critical and creative thinking gave me the ability to look at issues with new and different perspectives and to analyse them logically, taking into account the relevant stakeholders and constraints when I finally pulled together solutions.
This is something that my supervisors from both organisations were especially impressed with. They both asked me if all EMA students think this way. “Yes,” I told them. “They train us to.”
If you’re a graduate student considering an internship as part of your degree, I’d say that you should jump right in.
Get advice from as many people as possible at university and beyond before you start thinking about internships or post-study work. Consider talking to careers advisors, internship coordinators and course coordinators.
Investigate people in the industries and organisations that you would like to work in and ask them to have a coffee. Informally interview them about how they got to where they are and ask for specific advice on issues you’re concerned about. If necessary or appropriate, consider some “cold call” emails. If you send ten and only receive one reply, you’re doing fine. Sometimes you’ve got to put yourself out there more than you might expect to get that lucky break.
Whatever path you choose, start as early as possible. Avoid putting things off as you might lose out on incredible opportunities.
Take me as a prime example: if I’d delayed with either organisation I applied to, even by a few days or weeks, the positions that were of offer would have been filled by someone else.
This post is part of our Mind the Gap series, helping graduate students transition between study and work.