Smith: The importance of internships

Claire Smith, Intern

Do you know what career you’re going to pursue after earning your degree? I thought I did, too, until I became an intern.

I wanted to be a journalist ever since I started writing for my school newspaper in fifth grade. So, when I got accepted into my district’s Career Intern Program for the first semester of my senior year of high school, I knew I wanted to work at a newspaper. I’ve interned with the Schoolcraft Connection for just over four months and I can confidently say I no longer wish to be a journalist.

While I’ve enjoyed my experience here, I can no longer see myself pursuing this career. Working at the Connection 12 hours a week, I began to understand the daily tasks of a journalist. I got a realistic idea of what my life would be if I pursued this career and it was not for me. Journalism had always felt so right until I became a journalist. While that may sound ironic or naive, it truly was my experience, and it could be yours as well.

My internship pushed me to look into different career paths, which is something I’ve never really done before, and I’m not alone in this. According to 34 percent of college graduates, internships have significantly impacted their career direction (National Association of Colleges and Employers).

Why is this number so high?

Perhaps because of identity foreclosure.

American culture conditions young children to always have an answer to the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer was always a journalist, so much so that I began picking colleges based on the best journalism programs and cities to live in based on where well-known papers were, but there’s a psychological concept that may explain why I so intensely romanticized this career. Identity foreclosure is a phenomenon that occurs when a person defines some portion of their identity with little research, based on the influence of others or experiences, causing them to not consider other alternatives. Many peopleexperience identity foreclosure and without hands-on experience in the field, they may invest years of their lives and thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in a career that they end up being disappointed by, despite being convinced that it is their calling.

One excellent remedy for career-related identity foreclosure is field experience. Interning, networking, and volunteering in your desired career path early on can prevent you from letting your expensive degree and many years of hard work go to waste.

 “As a researcher, I often suggest that students who are interested in any kind of research work for a summer or a semester in a lab. You get real, hands-on experience and can begin to determine whether lab work is for you,” says Dr. Lisa Jackson, Ph.D., a professor in Psychology at Schoolcraft. “There are many different types of labs in every field, so one might have to try several, but a single lab experience often helps students start to discern whether research might be an option for them.”

It’s difficult to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life from a young age. The primary way we can truly discover what we want to be when we grow up is through trial and error. Pursuing career-oriented experiences during high school and college allows us to truly see if a certain career is our calling. In an internship, a person is able to discover how a career can be integrated into their lives, whether they have the qualities it takes to succeed in a career and whether theyenjoy the career, all of which would be difficult to achieve in the classroom.

Classroom experience can no longer be the standard for career preparedness because students can’t truly know if something is their passion unless they’ve tried it. To combat identity foreclosure, it is crucial that students have many experiences in their desired field prior to earning their degree. I can say with certainty that career-oriented experiences like these have such a large impact on a person.

After all, my internship changed the trajectory of my whole life.