A worthwhile internship is one part education and one part experience, says career expert Heather Huhman, author of the book Lies, Damned Lies & Internships. Actually, not quite half and half:
So in an ideal world an internship is at least 51 percent education and obviously 49 percent actually doing, practicing what you’ve learned. Depending on what level of education your have, at least 51 percent of it should be devoted to education as opposed to actually doing. An internship is not meant to be a job and I think that that is where people have sort of gotten off track and confused. The other part is mentor-ship. You should not just have a boss or a supervisor, like you would at a job. The idea is to be mentored by someone who is in your industry and actually practices what you are there to do so if it is a public relations internship, you should expect your supervisor to be in public relations, if it is a business development internship you should expect your mentor, or supervisor, whatever you want to call them, to be in business development because they are supposed to be there to impart wisdom on you, so you can take away a lot from the experience. And unfortunately that does not happen at too many internships.
The small edge Huhman gives to the education side of the internship experience, while maintaining that experience and education are virtually of equal importance, is a savvy way of acknowledging the crucial role that internships have assumed in the career ladder, while asserting what an internship really ought to be about. The work/mentorship framing of internships also serves as a good setup for her vision of the intern not as reluctant or indentured, but as empowered.
Huhman’s definition of an intern:
Intern (v): To gain business experience while contributing your already developed valuable skills; an empowered team member who learns through hard work and mentorship in a dynamic business environment.