I just finished up a short-term position as a control and monitor systems intern at the University of Maine. Basically, I worked on the data acquisition system of a floating offshore wind turbine. It’s an amazing project, but was not the reason why the internship was “perfect”.
What makes the perfect internship?
To be brutally honest, many internships straight-up suck. Employers view students as cheap labor, when they should be viewed as a necessary investment. This view is intertwined throughout the entire internship experience, and many students leave with an extremely negative view of the business. Instead of connecting with industry professionals to benefit their careers, many students get a bad taste in their mouths and never want to speak to these professionals again. That is, if they don’t sue the organization like these students. I had a bad experience in the marketing department at Sugarloaf while in college. If the terrain wasn’t so amazing, I’d never ski there again. Also, every time a friend asks me if they should work there, I strongly discourage it.
Sure the economy isn’t doing so great, but if you can’t pay your interns, don’t take them on! If you’re not ready to invest in the future and think about the long-term stability of your business, don’t do it! As an intern at the University of Maine, my wage was significantly higher than minimum wage. This is how all interns should be treated! I felt appreciated by the organization, and didn’t have to worry about finances whatsoever. If you don’t pay your interns, their focus will be on survival, not doing the best job they can. They will associate your business with an extremely stressful time in their lives, and will look at the experience in a very negative light. Do you think you will produce a good worker or long-term product evangelist? I don’t think so! The US has pretty specific labor laws regarding internships, and your interns are probably pretty good with Google. The laws can be found here.
After being paid, being surrounded with quality people is the next most important aspect of an internship. While working on VolturnUS this summer, I couldn’t have asked for better people to work with. Curtis Libby, my direct overseer, graduated from Maine Maritime Academy and is going to UMO for his MME. David Morrison, a UMaine professor, was integral in the design and coding of the data acquisition system. Both engineers are extremely smart, and I couldn’t have asked for better people to learn from and work with. If you don’t have people that genuinely care about your development as an intern, the whole experience won’t be very beneficial. Sure, work was the focus of our time, but building a personal relationship was very important to them. I appreciate that! In short, interns should feel like they are an important part to the organization’s success, and they should certainly be respected as people. They shouldn’t be viewed as underpaid minions who do all the grunt work, but as the next generation of CEO’s, supervisors, or head engineers.
3. Clear Objectives
Interns are usually at the very beginning of their careers, and need more direction than someone who has been doing the work for 10+ years. This is normal!! They shouldn’t be expected to know everything or interpolate between vaguely-defined expectations. The ground rules should be set from day 1, and they should know how to behave or perform on the job. While working on VolturnUS, I was given tasks and deadlines, and was treated very professionally. As a business student with an automotive technology background, I don’t have the same mathematics-intensive background as my coworkers. I do, however, have an aptitude to learn and I pick up on things quickly. Each task that I was given challenged me, but didn’t push me to the breaking point. In an internship, growth and personal development don’t need to happen all at once, but they need to happen! Interns shouldn’t be expected to step into their supervisors positions from the start, but they should be put on a clear path to that.
I spent the summer working on an amazing project in an amazing place. For much of the summer, we worked offshore on the first floating wind turbine in the US. Obviously, not all interns can say that, but something must make the business they are working for special! If an intern thinks the organization, product, or project is lame, he or she will quickly lose interest. Communicate the business strategy to them and make them feel like a strategic part of the business! Something must make it special and stand out in the marketplace or the company could not survive. If an intern feels they are doing something valuable or important, their experience will be exponentially better. If an intern has a good experience right from the start, you have made a loyal team member to your organization. That’s what all businesses want, right?