As far as internships go, there are few things quite as thrilling as walking up the steps of the Capitol for your first day of work on the Hill. Yet even as a congressional intern, there is a point — somewhere around the 1000th sorted letter, the 100th angry caller and the fifth day when you wish you could have slept in — when the job can lose itsglamour.
The internship opportunities available in the District are among the best in the country. I am by no means a connoisseur of all things professional, but I recommend securing at least one while on the Hilltop. The experience need not be miserable or come at the expense of academics. The key is finding the right internship for the right reasons.
All too often, college students seek positions — particularly unpaid ones — out of fear of competition. The Hoya underscored this fact in its feature on internships (“The New Normal,” G8, Aug. 31, 2012), quoting a student who explained, “I don’t know how I’ll compete … That’s the main motivation.” This line of thinking pits us in something of an arms race against our peers at Georgetown and at schools around the country. It means we are treating internships as potential additions to a resume rather than as enriching experiences in professional environments.
Georgetown’s alumni network and career services are excellent. What strikes me is the disconnect between what students think they should be doing and what professionals in the field are looking for. In most cases, the strength of Georgetown students going into the job market is their well roundedness and broad experience, yet students often pursue internships without keeping those attributes in mind.
The rise of unpaid labor is a boon to seemingly everyone except students and the young professionals who take such positions. Topical interest has more than made up for that discrepancy in my experience, but all too often I hear of fellow Georgetown students making great sacrifices for a position they don’t even enjoy. Less flashy private entities can supply the same training and job skills as well as a much-needed paycheck. In addition, many student organizations are growing their own network of alumni to mobilize in support of current students. These efforts can connect current students with people, organizations and companies that share their passions.
In addition to these personal strategies, Georgetown should make it easier for students to engage the D.C. community through internships, social justice work and political activism.
As it stands, transportation off campus remains limited. Whereas students at The George Washington University need only walk a few blocks to reach most government buildings, Georgetown students are given few and cumbersome transportation options to reach distant destinations. Some of these options are expensive, meaning unpaid internships can bring a financial loss. A number of ZipCarshave been made available to students over the age of 21, but these are limited, rendering them inaccessible as well as impractical for daily use. To help remedy the situation, the Georgetown University Transportation Shuttle system should draw new routes that better address undergraduate student travel needs as well as those of staff, graduate students and neighborhood residents.
Second, unlike many peer institutions, Georgetown offers extremely limited recognition of extracurricular work on academic transcripts. Structured internship programs for upperclassmen would add an extra level of practical education without forcing students to choose between the academic and the professional. Teaching a foreign language, working for a government agency in a specialized field or interning at an art gallery deserve recognition on the basis of academic merit and skills gained. Georgetown should encourage students to collaborate with professors and mentors to maximize the personal and academic benefits extracted from such opportunities.
Education is holistic, but much of the collegiate elite seem to have fallen into an academic versus career-oriented binary. Undergraduate study is about education, not a resume. Yet when internship opportunities help a Georgetown student advance both of these considerations, the university should embrace the opportunities outside the front gates wholeheartedly.
Nate Tisa is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He is speaker of the GUSA senate. CONTEMPLATION IN ACTION appears every other Friday.