Humanities internships, and students, deserve more credit

By MIA BERMAN | October 26, 2017

Hopkins students love to talk about their research. Admissions advertises research as one of the key reasons to come to the University, and it seems as if every student is involved — at least, every STEM student. Research is much less common among students interested in the humanities and social sciences. For these students, internships are the best way to get experience.

Internships are not particularly popular at Hopkins, especially during the semester. This is largely because of the way that Hopkins systematically ignores and disincentivizes internships. The most obvious way that Hopkins disincentivizes its students from pursuing internships during the semester is through the lack of credits offered for completing internships. While research is offered as a graded course on a scale of one to three credits based on how many hours are spent researching, internships only count for one credit, regardless of hour requirements.

Furthermore, internships are only offered pass/fail. This has a definite impact on students’ decisions to intern. Students might not think that the internship is worth the time and effort they need to spend participating. Internships are usually time consuming and even require large portions of time to be reserved for travel.

If a student can spend three hours a week in the classroom for three credits that semester, versus over 10 hours a week at an internship for one credit, the choice for many that are seeking to graduate either on time or early is clear. Similarly, if students need to improve their GPA, a pass/fail internship will not allow them to do so, which might result in students refraining from programs during the semester.

While students often discuss the importance of interning over the summer, the University rarely stresses or advertises the importance and advantages of interning during the semester. During the semester, internships are much less competitive to get because fewer students are available to intern. Most have less time to work and might not be in the right location to intern easily. Senate offices are great examples of how semester-based students are at an advantage.

Over the summer, most Senate offices get hundreds of applicants for a few coveted spots. During the semester, the average number of applicants drops significantly. Additionally, while summer internships only last two to three months, a semester long internship can encompass anything from two to five months. Interning during the semester is not only easier to accomplish — it might be more beneficial in the long run because students get more experience in their workplaces.

However, internships’ strengths aren’t the only thing students have to consider when applying for semester-long opportunities. Interning during the school year comes with its own price tag. Most internships require a minimum of 18 hours a week, or two full days, although this can certainly be split up over the course of three to four days.

While most research occurs on campus or at a Hopkins subsidiary that is a relatively short and free commute away, internships can be based anywhere.

Many students interested in disciplines such as political science, international studies or history might find that the best internship opportunities are available in Washington, D.C., which is at least a two hour, $8 one-way trip away. Students aren’t only “paying” for their experience because they won’t receive adequate credit. They are literally paying more money to get to where they need to go.

So why does this matter? Similar to how research helps STEM students decide what they are interested in pursuing post-graduation, internships allow humanities and social science students to experience their options. Two years ago when John Mulaney came to campus, he was calling on students in the crowd to introduce themselves. He called on several STEM students and asked them what they planned on doing after graduation. They all had answers. Then he called on an International Studies student. She had no clue.

Internships help humanities and social science students narrow down their interests, but it also helps connect these students to potential employers. Many offices prefer to hire their own former interns. Even if they do not have openings for their own interns upon their graduation, these offices will often use their connections to ensure that successful interns eventually find a job in another office.

Moreover, most offices, even if they do not hire their own interns, do want to see that the person that they are hiring has prior experience in that specific field. Having a good GPA from a well-known school is simply not enough anymore. Most people hiring, especially hiring those straight out of college, care very little about GPA or even majors. Instead they want to know that the individual they hire knows how to operate in a workplace setting.

Internships are an amazing opportunity for humanities students to gain experience and a better sense of what they might want to do post-graduation. The University should actively encourage students to intern during the semester, as well as incentivize student internships during the semester by offering graded internships on a one to three credit scale, similar to research. If the University wants to continue to recruit bright students interested in humanities and dispel the myth that Hopkins is only for STEM and pre-med students, this might be a good start.

I have had the privilege of being able to intern during the semester multiple times and currently am interning at the Democratic National Committee in D.C. These opportunities are rare; there is no other time in our lives where we can try out so many different fields and organizations with little to no negative long-term consequences. I regret not taking advantage of these opportunities sooner, but I would urge the administration to encourage more students to intern during the semester. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for any amount of research.

Mia Berman is a senior philosophy, International Studies and Africana Studies major. She is from Hopkins, Minn.

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