Unpaid Internships

We’re all in need of work experience. Whether you’re trying to be an astrophysicist, an artist or a musician; applying to a job with proof of previous experience is invaluable. It is this need for experience which has brought about the rise of internships. On paper, they are a brilliant idea. Work for a short period of time, usually four to ten weeks over the summer, gain contacts in the field you want to move into, gain some experience and then go back to university afterwards. Rinse and repeat every summer till your last year of university, and by the time you graduate you’ll have a plethora of experience and a huge network of contacts in your field. However, there seems to be a rising tendency for these to be unpaid.

Again, this may seem like not such a bad thing at first. A company or team is essentially taking you on with very little experience or training at all and showing you the ropes in your field. However, I feel there is a serious flaw to these being unpaid: it’s not fair. While I have been fortunate enough to conduct a few internships, which were paid (though, often not very well), I had the money behind me that I could take the opportunity, regardless. Others do not have such a luxury, and then what can they do? Given the choice between working for nothing in their dream field compared to getting paid while doing customer service work is a no brainer. Experience won’t pay the bills, it won’t buy your food. If you don’t have the money to do it, then you simply can’t.

If you’re a science student, this isn’t such a common thing. Usually an internship will be funded, or you can apply for funding from any of the many research councils dotted around the country. Again, this can be quite poor: one six-week internship I did had me working 40 hours a week on the equivalent of £1.65 an hour, but at least it was something! In the arts, this issue is much more prominent. The idea of being paid in exposure is also very prevalent, it unfortunately equates to the same thing. Everyone should be paid for the work they do. This is of course the situation, so what can we do about it? Well, of course, companies and institutions could only offer paid internships, but that’s not going to happen. Until this gets addressed at a higher level, this problem will likely persist. I speak much more confidently for science internships than art ones, but the answer, for now, seems to be applying for grants and talking to people. In my experience, the latter here kind of leads to the former, but it is surprising how much your supervisor can do for you. If you speak to them, and explain your predicament, they will move mountains to try to get the position funded if they are properly invested in the project and you’ve shown your commitment to them as well.

For sciences, there’s a ton of funding agencies: the STFC, the EPSRC, the RAS, the RSB etc. And that’s just to name the few after a quick Google search. For arts, the hunt is a little trickier. Another quick Google search revealed funding agencies such as the British Council and the Arts Society, however, these were still rather hard to find and beyond this it begins to go into the territory of PhD funding.

My final advice about getting an internship and then funding it is to just talk to people. Whether it is your supervisor or your lecturer – they may even be one and the same. If you have a look around the University of Glasgow and see someone who works in the field you want to get into, go and speak to them! No matter how daft the question might be, no matter if you doubt they’ll reply, just email them! Get that initial line of communication open. And even if they don’t reply, it gives you the excuse that when you next see them you can ask about it. You would be surprised how fast a project can be cobbled together if you just show some interest in a person’s work, and you can show that you genuinely know your stuff. And if you get them properly on side, you would be surprised how hard they’ll fight to keep you.


[David O’Ryan]

[Image credit: Pixabay.com/StartupStockPhotos]


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