Trinity students get to grips with online internships

Ella Sloane and Seán Holland talk to undergraduates about their experiences with this novel internship format

In terms of employability and skill development, internships can prove immensely valuable for undergraduates, often enhancing their future career prospects. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies have pivoted their traditional internship programmes to virtual formats in order to adapt. While this new remote setting presents a range of unique challenges and benefits that set it apart from the typical office-based internship many of us are familiar with, it has also thrown internship possibilities wide open in terms of working with companies which are primarily based abroad, or balancing office hours with full-time studies. We interviewed students from various backgrounds to gain insights into this rapidly evolving and novel internship format.

Speaking to Trinity News, Kate Henshaw, a Junior Sophister Sociology and Social Policy student, delved into her summer internship experience with Kinzen. The company describes its mission as one that “empowers the people who protect communities and conversation from disinformation campaigns and dangerous content”. Summarising the nature of her internship, Henshaw explained that it was fully online, full time and 40 hours per week. After interviewing other students, this brief synopsis appears to be the recurring formula for many remote summer internships. 

Regarding the application process, Henshaw recalled: “I applied for the internship in June and had to submit a CV and a cover letter. I was then given an interview. I also had to complete an introductory task and bring that prepared to talk about in the interview.” She gladly concluded that “it was a very straightforward process”. The internship began in June and ran through the whole summer period, and was paid at minimum wage. Not every student is lucky enough to secure a paid internship, something that seems to be in concerningly sparse supply considering the arduous tasks demanded by many.

“The tasks I did really effectively blended my interests in policy making, journalism and tackling social issues like hate speech together. It has really reaffirmed what I want to do post-college.”

Collecting and reviewing data was Henshaw’s primary objective throughout a regular day of her internship, which proved enriching to her own degree and areas of interest. “The tasks I did really effectively blended my interests in policy making, journalism and tackling social issues like hate speech together. It has really reaffirmed what I want to do post-college.” Of course there are drawbacks to a remote internship, no matter how engaging it may be. Henshaw admitted: “I really wish it was in person so I could have the full office experience” but reaffirmed that “the team has been fantastic in bringing that experience to the virtual sphere”.

“Although the organisation is based in London and Beirut, Fisk could work with relative ease from the comfort of his own home, highlighting the unique educational opportunities afforded by virtual internships.”

Oliver Fisk, a European Studies student, interned for the human rights organisation Salam for Democracy and Human Rights. Some of the tasks central to his internship included translating tweets and organising virtual events for the organisation. Fisk shared his enthusiasm about being able to directly apply the knowledge of Russian garnered from his degree, while also making use of the infrastructure of an online human rights organisation to gain knowledge on subjects that may previously have been inaccessible to him. Although the organisation is based in London and Beirut, Fisk could work with relative ease from the comfort of his own home, highlighting the unique educational opportunities afforded by virtual internships. 

The internship was part-time (ten hours weekly) and unpaid, and required prolonged time commitment, lasting from January to May. Although an unpaid internship is not accessible to everyone, Fisk believes this opportunity was valuable and will prove beneficial to him in the future: “It gave me some really incredible experience and I’m confident that all of the people (and all the things I learned) will help me in the future, specifically in regards to trying to gain employment”.

One of his highlights was organising an event in conjunction with Trinity’s Society for International Affairs (SOFIA) to commemorate the Tenth Anniversary of the Arab Spring. At the event there were speakers from Bahrain, Egypt and Libya, and it highlighted how the remote format lends itself to intercultural communication. This particular internship is an example of something that is off the beaten path and correlated to both the degree and interests of a Trinity undergraduate. 

Speaking to Trinity News, Ella Burkett, a Senior Fresher PPES student, shared their unique remote internship experience with JUMP! foundation, an organisation they described as “specifically dedicated to working with children to develop important skills like global citizenship and compassion”. Burkett had the opportunity to work with the international programme, which is based in Thailand, from their own home in Abu Dhabi during the summer of 2020. The internship lasted approximately six weeks and required a time commitment of 40 hours weekly. Burkett recalled the application process, something that is often perceived to be the most daunting aspect of securing an internship, as a relatively simple experience. Beginning in late April, the process required just two or three steps, including submitting a cover letter and completing an interview, soon after which they were notified of their successful application.

“Burkett delved into the pros and cons of completing a virtual internship, shedding light on how it can “teach you a lot of strong, self-directed work skills”, something which is becoming increasingly valuable to employers.”

This entirely volunteer-based internship involved a vast range of daily tasks “primarily directed towards media and communications” including crafting Instagram posts, writing Linkedin content, working on Jump! Foundation’s website, and attending intimate Zoom meetings in which employees shared their progress and participated in “think-tank” sessions. Burkett delved into the pros and cons of completing a virtual internship, shedding light on how it can “teach you a lot of strong, self-directed work skills”, something which is becoming increasingly valuable to employers. “Because of the sheer amount of tasks I had to do, I had to learn how to manage my time better in a professional setting”. Regretfully, the remote environment cost them the opportunity to form the “really special personal connections” with their colleagues that would have been possible in a face-to-face format. Another new learning curve for Burkett was the development of asynchronous collaboration in a work setting, a unique challenge posed by the online format of their internship.

STEM internships also acclimate students to working in a career in their field. Diya Mecheri, a Junior Sophister Biological and Biomedical Sciences student, recently interned at the Redwood Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience in the University of California, Berkeley. Under the guidance of Prof. Bruno Olshausen, Mecheri completed a 10 week internship in the area of vision science, a focus which relates to her degree specialisation in neuroscience at Trinity. 

Mecheri explained how she stayed motivated for the duration of her internship: “On weekdays, I set goals for myself (e.g., to complete the required readings and have questions ready)”. Biweekly meetings with Micheri’s mentor were held, keeping the internship engaging even in its virtual format. Furthermore, weekly lab meetings offered Mecheri the chance to share weekly progress and to network. Mecheri found that the internship translated effectively to an online working environment because the scientific journals, PubMed and Google Scholar, as well as computational software needed to complete her work, were all available remotely. Being involved in an extended academic setting has given Mecheri an understanding of the level of punctuality and professionalism needed to work in this environment.

Evidently, the world of virtual internships has the advantage of broadening career opportunities and education possibilities for Trinity undergraduates. While the lack of in-person office time is the biggest downfall of these virtual internships, students are quickly learning how to navigate and take advantage of work spaces that are increasingly moving online. Online internships provide students with the ability to make inroads into their career with a wide-range of career prospects in a full-time or part-time setting. This selection of accounts attests to the fact that Trinity students are continuing to experience first hand how both major corporations and smaller organisations operate, under this new and fast-developing format, and are implementing their own knowledge garnered from their undergraduate degrees to challenge themselves and secure grad roles.