No Longer the Coffee Runner

By: Carolina Maggio, Edited by: Renee Schroeder

“We’ll have a grande caramel macchiato, two vanilla bean frappuccinos, and one venti dark roast with two packets of Splenda.”

Entertainment constantly portray interns as frantically trying to remember long, complicated Starbucks orders for everyone in the office. While interns in the movies are tasked with balancing drink carriers, interns in reality might not have it so bad.

Internships in college are all the buzz. If you’re like me, you might be all too familiar with the following: “Where are you thinking about interning?” “I’m applying for this internship…” “Have you interned yet?” Internships have become a staple of the modern college experience but aren’t exactly what the movies make them out to be.

I recently wrapped up an internship at the Frist Art Museum and I’m looking back at all the experiences I’ve had in the last three months. As a philosophy major, I never expected myself to be filming a concert, interviewing photographers, writing press releases, or creating a marketing plan; however, I knew I was interested in museums and decided an internship was a good way to dip my toe in the water.

Interning has given me not only career clarity, but also valuable organizational and interpersonal skills—and not once did I run and get coffee for anyone! Studies show that internships aren’t just for memorizing Starbucks orders, but actually have incredible benefits.

In a 1999 study, researchers Fred Beard and Linda Morton from the University of Oklahoma found that successful internships increase career focus while also giving students greater confidence in one’s interpersonal communication skills in a workplace setting. In their study, a self-administered questionnaire was sent to 193 students who completed summer internships in mass communication programs. It aimed to analyze predictors and outcomes of internship success. A successful internship is one where the student leaves feeling as though they learned valuable information and can see some gain, whether intrinsic or extrinsic.

Researchers found that in order for the internship to be successful, the most important ingredient is the quality of supervisors. A good supervisor is one that balances autonomy and connection, and frequently provides supportive and constructive feedback. This is pivotal in maintaining positive relations with one’s intern supervisor.

Other predictors include having knowledge of organizational practices/policies, feeling academically prepared prior to the internship and receiving compensation for work. Just like a good barista brews a good cup of coffee, a good intern supervisor creates a good intern experience.

Some of the benefits of interning discussed by the study included acquiring technical skills through experiential learning and developing a professional identity. Others were greater career focus and increased interpersonal skills that are necessary in the workplace, such as: adjusting to a professional culture, managing face threats and resolving conflict.

Another 2016 study done by Stephanie Dailey, an assistant professor in the department of communication studies at Texas State University, found that internships increased participants’ organizational and vocational socialization, and better prepared newcomers when entering an organization by giving them more confidence rather than ambiguity or anxiety.

In the study, published in the Western Journal of Communication, students participating in summer internships, as well as full-time employees, partook in a 15-month long study involving interviews and questionnaires. The study found that in comparing employees with intern experience and those without, those who had previous experience were allowed “more opportunities to learn about and adapt to organizations and vocations” says Dailey.

Employees with previous intern experience had better professional communication skills, including conflict management and teamwork roles. Second, those with intern experience received greater vocational opportunities, like chances to explore career fields and test the waters—I won’t try to push the coffee metaphor again.

Interestingly, Dailey also found that those in intern positions uniquely form identity compared to full time employees. Interns tend to either project their roles inaccurately into the future or feel increased separation when they anticipated leaving their position.

Sometimes you enjoy your cup of coffee so much, you don’t realize that it’s almost gone. Or, you fear running out of coffee, so you let it sit but then it gets too cold.

Identity forecasting is important when understanding intern socialization because it shows how students in a successful internship can become quickly absorbed and acclimated to a professional environment. Internships provide an introduction to workplace socialization and therefore better prepare students for the social dynamics.

My internship at the Frist was my first real exposure to a professional work environment. Now I’ve had first-hand experience learning how to communicate with working professionals in different creative industries. The level of professionalism necessary is something I wouldn’t experience in a classroom setting—just like I won’t get as great a taste from k-cup coffee.

Interns aren’t just balancing coffee orders and drink carriers; they are balancing a growing professional identity with new interpersonal skills. Just like a good cup of coffee, there are certain things that go into a good internship and different ways of brewing that pour out a great experience. These include positive supervisor relations, compensation for work, and academic preparedness.

So, ditch the coffee carrier and grab hold of an internship instead!

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