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by Vault Education Editors | May 18, 2011


Wondering what being an intern will be like? Here is a sampling of reviews of Ross Perlin’s Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy for your perusal, so that you may form a sense of life as an intern.  

You may end up doing some horrifying things [Slant]

Perlin digs up intern horror stories: a Disney World intern receiving a negative paycheck after rent was subtracted; a social-work intern who was sexually harassed, but couldn't sue the offender because, as an intern, she wasn't considered a legal employee, and as such wasn't protected by the Civil Rights Act; an unpaid NBC intern in New York City who had to sleep on a rotation of over 20 friends' couches the entire summer because he couldn't afford rent. Perlin also nicely bashes the Obama White House and how it euphemistically refers to its unpaid interns as "answering the call to service"…

Welcome to the real world: Sometimes jobs are jobs and involve doing things that suck. [New Republic]

Perlin’s call for an end to legal weaseling and economic unfairness is entirely appropriate. But what if doing menial labor, provided that it is under fair and transparent conditions, can be worthwhile way of learning about the working world? Jobs are not always personally fulfilling and professionally enriching and led by supportive mentors; and life is not educational entertainment advancing reliably toward the realization of dreams. Perhaps these are not such terrible lessons to learn. Jobs are jobs. And discovering that work can be bleak is a crucial step in catalyzing a young achiever’s transformation from a consumer of services (paying to be asked to read books and take tests, complaining when you don’t get what you were sold) to a productive adult.

Not a girl, not yet a woman—I’m an intern. [The Guardian]

Perlin's sociological insights are complemented by his personal experience of interning at a London NGO, working 300 hours without pay. His observations resonate. Financial circumstances dictate how long one can play the internship game. Like other interns Perlin describes, I too have used up all my savings in the absence of a salary. While my granny might have envisioned me putting down a deposit on a modest London property, I decided to put my stake in internships, hoping that they would be an investment for the future and bring security in the end. Every stint has involved a mixture of hope and despondency, a feeling of progress tempered by the frustration of not being able to become a "proper" adult. Perlin incisively documents this "prolonged adolescence" experienced by many interns.

Interns assume that their labor, like many things in the Information Age, should be free [Publishers Weekly]

Perlin pivots from Disney villains to the evolution of the internship, a word borrowed from the French term "interne" used to describe junior medical men performing simple physician's tasks. He compares and contrasts internships with the fading practice of apprenticeships, investments of time and labor that actually gave young people a foothold in an industry, and reveals how the internship trend represents a change in how individuals conceive of work and their role in the economy.

You don’t want to do an unpaid internship, but you feel like you have to. [Kirkus Reviews]

[As] Perlin deftly points out in his well-reasoned narrative, the number of unpaid interns in the workforce has skyrocketed in recent years, creating a bizarre, vicious economic cycle. Put simply, since the economic crash of 2008, there are fewer jobs than there have been for the better part of the century, which means scores of graduates who can't find work but need experience.

All internships aren’t exploitative. [Business Insider]

Perlin had the opportunity with this book to briefly cover the problems with internship programs and then present possible solutions. However, this is not the approach he took. Instead, if interns weren’t already feeling belittled, he painted a picture of how the world of work “really” views them: free or cheap labor and nothing more. While there are certainly examples of this, potential interns should take an active role in their searches and not settle. All internships certainly aren’t created equal—yet.

You’re not NOT going to do an internship, so at least look out for future interns. [Economist]

Calls for new labour laws that reflect the growing prominence of internships have got nowhere. Instead, interns will have to look out for each other, for example by rating their experiences on websites such as InternshipRatings and Internocracy. At any rate, students may be buoyed by a rare bit of good news from the National Association of Colleges and Employers: employers intend to hire 19% more graduates this year than last. This should spare some from the drudgery of working without pay.


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