Contributed by Jasmine Ryan
It’s day one of my internship at Futuretheory. It’s a grey winter morning in Canberra, but that doesn’t dampen my nervous-excitement as I jump on a bus to Fyshwick. This internship has been on my mind all weekend. I’ve texted friends an embarrassing amount of times with photos of outfits, but also, with worries about my own ability. I keep wondering if I’m ready to start producing professional work. Although I study design and have produced work as a student or volunteer, I still feel as if this is a giant step up from anything I’ve done before.
I think the term “professional” is the source of my nerves. I keep wondering – “what does it take to be a professional?” From my outsider perspective, being a professional seems to be more than just pursuing my chosen profession, which is graphic design. To me, professionals work at the highest level, they’re required to have an attention to detail, while also being creatively adaptable and flexible. I can’t help but wonder if I’m up to the task. I keep wondering, what happens if these requirements aren’t met. Work is different from university, once the deadline has passed there is no redo. If I fail, I need to evaluate my missteps, pick myself up and apply what I learned to the next project.
Why do an internship?
So why did I choose to be an intern? Often people consider internships to be free labour, seeing it as an unfortunate side effect of our competitive job market. This gives internships a complicated reputation. When I mention I’m starting an internship, reactions can span anywhere from admiration to anger. This anger often comes with a long talk on the exploitative nature of internships. There is the typical, Hollywood representation of an intern, who is constantly on coffee runs and is ironically barred from accessing the industry they’re dedicating their time to. There is also a view of interns, as completing equal work to paid employees yet receiving nothing for it. This perspective enforces the idea that it’s impossible to get a good job without sacrificing your time for free. However, there is also the much coveted, paid internships, where wages are given to support interns, enabling them to vigorously train and build experience before entering the workforce.
So does this make unpaid internships exploitative? I don’t think so, I believe there is a sweet spot where employers and interns can mutually benefit from one another. I’m not alone in this belief. Universities often require internships or work placement to complete one’s degree. This emphasises experience and mentorship over money – income is not the only personal gain someone makes from the work that they do. For me, a mentor can be more valuable than a transactional, employee/employer relationship. I think guidance for a short time within a workplace environment can only help build my work to a professional standard and give me the experience to be confident in my abilities.
I’m lucky to be with Futuretheory, the hours are flexible and short enough that I can support myself while interning. Yet everyone’s situation is different, so my advice is – apply for internships, but only if you feel that it is worth your time and that the transaction (be it time, lower pay, etc) is a balanced one.
My day so far
I view my internship at Futuretheory almost like a course in professionalism. I’m watching and creating, gradually testing my skills and learning new ones. Futuretheory’s internship also provides really important creative networks. Especially as Canberra is a relatively small city, I will most likely be interacting with my new boss, colleagues and clients for many years to come. I’m also excited to dedicate more time in being creative by working on design projects and writing more articles. I hope the numerous hours I will spend at Futuretheory will instil some great habits.
So far today, we’ve all been working on individual projects — some of us are editing videos, others are taking photos of our new office. I’m writing this article, trying to articulate my own thoughts and expectations. All I can say is, there is a future in Futuretheory. I feel like it is the beginning of something concrete — connections, content for my portfolio, a career — all these things and more are in my reach.
It is early days and a lot can happen, but I’m truly excited to see what this internship holds for me. I’ll keep you all updated over the next 6 weeks and hopefully, I can help anyone interning or looking for internships.