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Unpaid internships offer hard choices for undergrads

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With the end of the semester looming, many students are weighing the merits of a prestigious but profitless internship against the benefits of a summer income. Luckily, McGill provides many essential services such as the Arts Internship Office (AIO) and Career Planning Service (CaPS) that can make the search easier. That said, McGill is unfortunately ill-equipped to help students who are unable to justify working for free, as the internships it offers are largely unpaid and jobs on campus are competitive. There are also a lack of internship opportunities within McGill itself. To fill this gap on campus, programs like the AIO funnel students into external organizations, whereby students in certain departments have to pick and choose between internships that may be only partially relevant to their field of study. While these organizations are integral to student life and experience, McGill nevertheless needs to foster opportunities within the campus by providing relevant, research-based internships or more student jobs.

Although many students have resigned themselves to the fact that ‘internship’ is almost always synonymous with ‘free labour,’ internships nonetheless remain luxury goods—ones that most students simply can’t afford. While measures like the Arts Internship Awards attempt to mitigate the financial strain, the provision of internships is particularly at risk after a recent series of provincial budget cuts. As a result, many students instead choose to find summer employment at camps, restaurants, and cafes, which, though offering a wage and a certain degree of experience, are oftentimes not standouts on a CV and don’t offer the same type of professional growth.

Given the sheer number of departments and unique fields that are included under the ‘Arts’ heading, it’s understandably difficult to find internships that meet everyone’s individual needs.

While it’s not necessarily within McGill’s jurisdiction to subsidize students’ internships, it could increase student employment opportunities so that students can work on their CVs and improve their financial stability both in the summer and during the school year. For students who require a summer income but are also looking to embellish their resumes, affiliations with the university can provide a middle ground between the financial pragmatism of a job and the prestige of an internship. Jobs offered by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) or the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) particularly help merge this gap, as the positions largely deal with organizational and administrative tasks commonly found in office-based internships. Moreover, campus jobs provide employment for many international or anglophone students who don’t meet Quebec’s bilingual requirement.

For students who do pursue internships, there is the added issue of finding an internship that suits one’s interests and is relevant to his or her field of study. While the AIO offers a wide variety of internships, some departmental headings seem to offer more opportunities than others. On the other hand, the AIO Awards program is available for students who find their own internships as well. That said, given the sheer number of departments and unique fields that are included under the ‘Arts’ heading, it’s understandably difficult to find internships that meet everyone’s individual needs. As an alternative, McGill could support more research-based internships within its own departments. Although certain departments and faculties offer such opportunities, such as the Summer Undergraduate Research in Engineering (SURE) program and the Arts Undergraduate Research Internship Award (ARIA) program, these positions are only available to a select number of students. Likewise, these positions are not necessarily regulated by McGill itself, but subject to the department or individual professor’s varying resources. Given their lack of uniformity, these opportunities are often even less accessible than external internships. If McGill were to invest in making these kinds of research internships permanent, and regulated fixtures within departments, students would have an opportunity to work directly in their fields (which would not only embellish their resumes but also allow them to employ and enhance the skills needed for their studies).

Although an internship might look great on a resume or CV, they disadvantage those students who simply cannot afford to work for free, but could nonetheless benefit greatly from the work experience later in life. In order to combat the selectivity and inequality of summer internships, McGill should foster more student employment and internship opportunities within the university itself.

 

 

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