Wouldn’t it be great to work and not be paid for it? The dilemma with unpaid internships.

Internship.Flickr.JeffHoward

Does that mean you should or should not take the position?
Image credit: Jeff Howard

McGill’s Institute for the Study of International Development recently organised the “Young Professionals in Development Forum“, which invited speakers to talk about how they got to where they are in their careers. One thing that inevitably came up were internships. After the event, I heard a student approach one of the speakers to enquire about whether they felt one should take a “good” internship even if it was unpaid. The answer went something roughly like this:

Aaah… this is a tough one. Ideally, you’d want a paid internship, right? But there aren’t that many out there. So yeah, taking an unpaid internship – it’s sort of inevitable. I know it’s not great, but if you can do it, I would not forego the opportunity.”

A fair answer, perhaps, but not one everybody would agree with: in Why You Should Never Have Taken That Prestigious Internship, Al-Jazeera columnist Sarah Kendzior vehemently criticises unpaid internships:

“In one generation, working for free for people who can pay you went from something laughable, to something wealthy people were doing in a few fields, to something everyone was recommended to do, to something almost everyone has to do.”

Unpaid internships are a salient issue for many students, and any number of my graduate friends have done one of them, including, well, myself. Should we “never have taken that prestigious internship”?

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