Internship season is upon us now that it is the three-month summer break. A quick scroll through LinkedIn and you may see your peers sharing their “Starting a New Position” updates every few posts, or you may have also posted one yourself. This may make some wonder—why is everyone opting to spend what is called a “break” for a reason to do the exact opposite?
Be it credit-bearing faculty internships, summer and winter vacation internships, or even global internship programmes, it seems like university is the hotspot for companies to find their potential full-time hires. That makes sense because, after all, it is the last lap of our education journey for most of us before we enter the workforce.
Internships are great for various reasons. They let us put into practice the theories we have learnt about (whether excitedly or begrudgingly) in the classroom. They show us how the real-life working world, outside the shelter of a structured school system, works. And perhaps the most important one—they can be great for helping us get our name to employers out there, which can ideally land us that dream full-time job upon (or even before) graduation.
However, with what seems like everyone around us securing an internship and having something “productive” to do for the summer, it is very easy to fall into the trap of doing one just for the sake of it—there can be an inherent peer pressure to do so or risk losing out in the ‘competition’ of gaining work experience as a student. And for those who did not manage to secure an internship, it can be demoralising especially if you are active on LinkedIn and see your peers’ internship posts left right and centre.
Why is everyone looking for something to do during the semester holidays? How can we make full use of our internship experiences or fully enjoy our breaks as students? Here are my own little thoughts on these.
The hustle culture
If you are in university, chances are you are no stranger to the infamous hustle culture—the apparent need to constantly push yourself to do more and more, to challenge your boundaries, to chase your wildest dreams, all to fulfil the goals that society has collectively set for every one of us as a blueprint for success. This may entail scoring internships for every summer and winter break, working part-time during the school semester, and balancing a life outside of all these.
Generally, it seems like being a full-time student alone is not sufficient in this day and age; there’s the pressure to also join multiple CCAs, hold leadership positions in various student committees, work part-time jobs and so on.
It is then useful to understand the seemingly competitive landscape of internships in the wider context of the hustle culture. Seeing our peers scoring internships can inherently pressure us to feel like we must get one as well, and when we fail to do so, we get beaten down and wonder if we are not good enough. Some of us feel the need to stand out from other people to gain an edge in job-hunting in future, while others are afraid of looking bad for relaxing too much and being “unproductive”.
Don’t get me wrong—I personally feel that doing internships as a student is definitely a good thing, but only if we are doing it for the right reasons.
Internships for personal growth—not a rat race
Admittedly, it can be hard to not be affected by the competitive spirit of others and feel like you need, instead of want, to do the job. However, once in a while, you might find it helpful to detach yourself from the intense rat race and take a more micro perspective—what are your own personal goals?
As mentioned earlier, internships are a great way to help us grow personally by challenging us to get out of our comfort zone to earn our keep while also picking up useful skills. Internships, as the word suggests, are for us to be like a sponge and absorb what the full-timers teach us, as well as what we can learn on the job.
But sometimes as interns, we will inevitably be assigned “menial tasks” that do not teach us new concrete hard or soft skills. In such cases, perhaps the learning aspect is not so much, but you can take it as a chance to observe the company and industry culture to see if it suits you and your future career goals. The job can also be good for networking as you get to know more people to expand your social circle. Furthermore, if you happen to be in a career dilemma of not knowing what you want to do in future, maybe a chat with colleagues who are willing to share about their experiences would help! (Call me optimistic, but I think it’s good to find the silver lining in every cloud.)
Additionally, it is essential to consider what you want out of the job experience. Take it as a chance to glimpse into the working world and find out what you want to do in your career in future. For instance, if you are unsure what type of job you want to do, this is a time for you to trial-and-error if a particular industry is really what you are keen to go into. If yes, great! If not, now you know and can go on to try something else.
And all in all, enjoy the process of interning! True, perhaps a part of why you chose to do the internship is to build up your portfolio and have something valuable to put on your CV. But when the going gets tough, it may be useful to motivate yourself also by seeing it as a way to learn and grow both personally and professionally, rather than just a way to stand out from the crowd. Some degree of competition is good, but too much can exert unnecessary stress on ourselves, and life is so much more than that career document.
Spending the summer holiday as, really a holiday
On the other hand, if you did not manage to get an internship this summer or weren’t planning on one, take the chance to spend the summer holiday as, well, a holiday! Take advantage of the fact that you don’t have a fixed 9-to-5 schedule to engage in hobbies you have always wanted to do that you didn’t have the time to during the school term. Take the time to do some self-care. Improve yourself by doing some online courses to pick up skills that you want to learn. Or really, just take a well-deserved break from the semester and recharge to prepare for the next one.
Of course, this one article and my own views alone are not sufficient to encompass more aspects of hustle culture, so if you are interested, you can check out this Reddit thread or read this article by fellow NUS undergraduate and local YouTuber Dargoyaki which I feel is a pretty good perspective on hustling, among others.
The toxicity of hustle culture is that it takes valuable time away from what really matters in our lives. So live, laugh, love, and enjoy your time as a student to the fullest. After all, we only have three or four summer holidays, and before you know it, they will have all passed in the blink of an eye.