Internship stories and lessons learned

"Internships" are soon going to be one of the most overused terms in academic jargons. We need to make concentrated efforts to make sure that this does not end up being a fad but something that gives true value to a student.

As Fourth Ambit launches the "Grand Internship Fair", allow me to share 3 incidents around the theme of internship that created a lasting impression on me.

Story 1

It was august 2017. Author Rashmi Bansal was in the news getting trolled by India''s Social Media vigilante for the below post she made on her facebook account.

"I am looking for a hungry and foolish young person who would like to work as my apprentice. This will involve research, fact-checking, handling my audio and video files, their transcription, accompanying me for interviews. It is a full-time job based in Mumbai and will also entail travelling both within the city and outside", she wrote.

This led to a fiery debate on unpaid internships. I do not know if she ended up recruiting an intern after the trolls went home. As someone who aspires to learn the craft of writing, I recollect wishing that I had chanced upon such an advertisement when I was not neck deep in my commitments with my own startup.

I understand that there are instances when companies take advantage of youngsters. But in this case, I still believe that what Ms Bansal offered was a unique opportunity which people did not have the foresight to take advantage off. Or perhaps, the "trollers" were as usual in for their 15 minutes of fame.

My reaction to this? Ryan Holiday explains this very beautifully in his blog.

"To me, these people have made one of two bad assumptions:

Because of your helicopter parents youve wrongly concluded that your timeas an untrained college student no lessis worth something in an economy where people with decades of experience are willing to accept entry level work again .

You think the point of an internship is a few dollars here and there (rather than skills and access). Newsflash: If youre not learning anything its your fault. For instance, three of the interns worked at GawkerI can think of a million lessons they should have picked up, the most priceless should have been about what kind of person NOT to be and what a miserable job the blogging grind is."

I rest my case.

Story 2

Jorhat, the 2nd largest city of Assam is famous for 2 reasons as the "Tea Capital of India and also for ULFA militant activities.

Without knowing about either of these, I landed up in Jorhat during the summer of 2004. I was doing my summer internship project and I had to visit a senior official of Regional Research Laboratory.

I had sent a few random emails to the various mail ids I found on the net without any results. Now one summer afternoon I find myself standing at the gate of the institute and a tall and frail looking security guard who would not even let me into the compound.

I had travelled all the way from Kolkatta and there was no way I was going back without a meeting. I stood with forlorn expression thinking back on all the tricks of trade I have ever heard of when people spoke of building a rapport with clients. Most of them involved offering a smoke to the guard or taking the distributor out for a drink neither of which I was ready to do in Jorhat.

All I had with me was my "little-lost-girl" demeanour. And well. I used that.

I spent a good deal of time speaking with the security, asking him first about Jorhat and then about his family. And within 30 minutes or so, he was showing me the direction to the office I needed to go to.

Be it in my subsequent career as a B2B marketing professional or as an entrepreneur, this is one skill that has stood the test of time. You dont learn this in a classroom. You learn this by grabbing any opportunity that comes your way and sweating it out. In this case, literally.

Story 3

These days students are in frenzy for the right opportunity. College authorities and faculties are under incredible pressure to ensure that their students get the best offers possible.

Into this mix we have industry blaming the colleges for students being not employable; colleges blaming universities and so on and so forth.

Why are we still unable to do some serious course correction after making all this noise? Allow me to narrate an incident from 2013.

We had just started Fourth Ambit. I wanted a couple of interns. I approached one of the top 4 "Arts & Sc colleges" in Ernakulam. I met with the faculty in-charge of placements and requested for interns. And this was paid internship, mind you.

Not a lot of money, but paid nonetheless.

I was told by the Gentleman that companies like ours are frauds and we are only out to take advantage of students by making them work for pittance.

Looking back, I wonder if he had ever heard of the concept of internships. I wish I could say this was a one off incident. While no one has ever been so crude, there have been so many requests for interns that have never received any reciprocation from teachers. Why? Because a significant portion of our academicians still believe that it is more important to complete teaching the "syllabus" than ensuring that the students are employable.

I am not tainting all the good teachers out there by the same brush. But while we are in a mindless blame game in the matter of our employability, we need to ensure that it is not just our students but the purveyors of knowledge also understand the importance of internships.

We are very proud to bring to the students of Kerala the first edition of "Grand Internship Fair". To know more, please click here.

(This article is authored by Ruby Peethambaran, Cofounder of Fourth Ambit)

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