It almost brought me to tears

I would like to start by saying that I bare no ill will towards the political think tank I worked for or any of its staff, they were all doing the best they could in difficult funding circumstances and I do believe they had a genuine concern for their interns’ wellbeing. However, there needs to be a debate over internship practice because it has a big impact on working practices in the UK’s professional sector.

When I applied for the internship I already had my reservations; it was unpaid work with limited travelling expenses (I just managed to creep in under their limit), no lunch expenses and with full-time working hours. In many ways I was lucky, my parents were both able and willing to subsidise me and I lived within commuting distance of London (although, as I was to discover, train networks meant this journey would take more than four hours out of my day – my fault, but the London-centric nature of this sector is a real concern).

As it was to turn out my internship was no tea-making and photo-copying job, I had in effect been hired to replace a full-time research assistant who had left the month before due to a loss of research funding. To make matters worse my supervisor, who as the organisation’s director, was frequently unavailable and disappeared off for a significant chunk of my internship leaving me essentially to my own devices. Without effective supervision the quantity of work the task entailed shot up, so on top of the four hour commute and eight hour working day I was working for a few hours when I got home as well just to get my projects done. It was a learning curve and I probably came out stronger in the end but for months all the stress and exhaustion really made an impact on my mental – and physical – health.

That aside, what really got to me, and what almost brought me to tears, was that after all of the effort I put in to my published work (as went out to university libraries) I was to discover upon leaving that my name wasn’t on the front of any of it.

After that I got an internship with a left-wing pressure group. It was part-time, full-expenses and there certainly wasn’t the pressure to turn up or do set duties that I had previously had. I enjoyed it a lot, I was thanked at the end of every day and my contribution was recognised in print on anything I produced.

In the end, however, neither of these internships helped me to get a job in the political sector. I genuinely believe in equality of opportunity but in a system which doesn’t seem to recognise it my attempt at a principled stand gradually crumbled and I eventually gave in and used personal connections to get my current job. Indeed, having spoken to people in similar positions to my own this seems to be the norm in a sector, which at least in this aspect, is in desperate need of reform.

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