Internship - Duncan's Story

Duncan graduated from an American studies course at the University of Nottingham in 2010, and is now an intern at Rostrum Communications

When I graduated I had very little concept of the road ahead so I took a gap year-and-a-half post uni to go travelling. I’m currently doing my third internship at a PR agency. My first two internships were both two weeks long. My third, which is at the same agency as my first, is for three months, ending at the end of October.

My middle internship was a complete waste of time. I learned nothing I hadn’t learned in my first two weeks with my current agency, I had little to do and essentially represented reserve manpower if and when it was required. The current agency has been great. You need the right personality though, it is stressful, hectic and permanently outside of the comfort zone. When I do bad stuff people tell me it’s bad, they tell me why and they show me how to do better. When I do good stuff they tell me that too, but only when they mean it.

It is my impression that my current agency uses internships as a thorough vetting process. The weight and complexity of the tasks have been increasing rapidly from the beginning and it has the distinct feel of a test. From the word go I have been told that a job would be on the cards if I impress.

I feel I’ve served my time as an intern and I’m ready for the real thing but I would say that internships are a good thing. It is a badge that says: ‘I will do bad work, but it’s not costing you much so what the heck’. To learn in an environment where people are obliged to criticise your work, mentor you and train you without costing them too much seems fair. But three months is enough. Beyond that is unfair, by then you should start to become an asset or be cut loose.

The two week ones I was paid only full expenses, including lunch, but this three month internship is paid. During the first two months (unpaid and waiting for my first pay packet) financial support rested largely with my parents. I had very little money left after uni (despite working throughout) and had it not been for my parents loaning me money (my monthly train ticket was £350) it would have been a real struggle. I find it hard to imagine how somebody not lucky enough to have financial support available would get by. The hours leave very little time for moonlighting.

Minimum wage should be mandatory for interns, if not it’s unfair to those unable to requisition support from elsewhere. Minimum wage isn’t much to a decent agency and it’s enough to get by on for us interns.