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EDITORIAL: Interns deserve more than just experience in exchange for work

Internships provide great experience but need to take interns' quality of life into account

Internships need to do more than give interns experience as when we accept an unpaid internship we devalue ourselves, our time and our talent.  – Photo by Marvin Meyer / Unsplash

It is that time of the year, again. College students everywhere are busy planning their summers by worrying about internships and what they need to do to best prepare for their careers. Internships are always daunting: how to get one, how to succeed and how to make the best of the experience.

Yet, one other really important factor, that is sometimes overlooked, is if people can even afford to take an internship. Unpaid internships are always hot topics of debate, especially among college students. Generally, internships should be paid — whenever people give their labor, they need to be duly compensated. 

A lot of the arguments in support of unpaid internships are that they provide essential experience to land an entry-level position. In theory, this makes sense. But not everyone has the same access or resources to take an unpaid internship. For many people, this type of trajectory is unattainable. Between costs associated with the actual internships, lost wages and historic and systemic barriers, unpaid internships are barriers to succeeding.

Not only that, but an an unpaid internship can also cost money. Internships often require commuting and other expenses associated with working whether that be getting lunch or even the use of technology — there are costs associated with interning that we cannot overlook.

Not just those costs associated with the internship but the other, psychological costs of interning are important to address when debating unpaid internships. When we accept an unpaid internship we devalue ourselves, our time and our talent.

This notion that our time and labor do not have to be paid — even if we are gaining the all-important experience — messes with our senses of self and can lead us to not be as forceful when we negotiate salaries in the future.

A more central concern is that unpaid internships favor the already privileged. If you have the money and the resources to accept an unpaid position, you can jumpstart your career much easier than people who have to instead find jobs — that are not related to their studies or their intended careers — to pay bills and maintain their quality of life.

Unpaid internships speak to the systemic and structural barriers that make it difficult for minorities and people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed. 

To make internships more accessible to people from all backgrounds, they should certainly be paid. Still, other internship companies might have difficulty paying interns — legislative internships, smaller start-ups or nonprofit organizations might not have the financial resources to fully pay interns.

These companies, though they should provide some type of stipend, can claim they do not have the funding. As with careers in public service, people applying to these internships should know what they are getting into. 

Even if the companies themselves cannot provide such a stipend or pay their interns, universities and other civic-engagement centers should look into how to best attract students to these internships and keep them, by providing some type of monetary payment. 

Rutgers has initiated a new program that accomplishes this exact goal of providing an amount of money to students pursuing internships that typically do not pay. The Rutgers Summer Service Internship Initiative provides a stipend of $5,000 to students who pursue internships at non-profit organizations that help the public and direct-service government offices. 

This payment encourages students to pursue the important work of governance and making the world a better place. An initiative such as this one goes directly to making these opportunities more accessible to as many students as possible. 

Institutions should take the lead from Rutgers and promote more of these types of programs as they empower students to pursue opportunities in offices that they may not otherwise be able to afford.

Yet, at the individual level, we can also speak up and demand more for ourselves. It can be intimidating talking to bosses, and especially in our excitement at being given an offer, we might just take the position without really prioritizing ourselves and our needs — but we must put ourselves first, which means speaking up and vocalizing our needs.

While this might not lead to guaranteed pay, it will improve our confidence and will set a solid foundation for how we interact with businesses and hiring managers in the future.

These individual actions would benefit students, but they should not overshadow how crucial it is that companies pay their interns.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 154th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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