Why get an internship?
by Michael Ernst (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Students must decide whether to spend the summer working at a company (and
if so, what company), doing research at a university, or just taking a long
vacation. Each of these options has its merits, and different ones are
best for different people (or at different points in their careers). Here
are some reasons you might want to choose an internship:
- If you haven't worked in a company, you are ill-prepared to choose a
a job after graduation. You are also ill-prepared to
decide between a job and graduate school.
The same thing goes for learning about companies of
specific size (big company, startup, etc.), particular types of work
(programmer, tester, program manager, etc.), and other factors.
- Working in a company exposes you to a different way of thinking and
working. This breadth of experience is likely to stand you in good
stead when you approach problems, because you will be able to choose the
most effective style rather than applying the same approach in every
situation. Each new company or research group adds to your experience,
but having at least one internship and at least one long-term
undergraduate research experience (such as the summer or a full academic
year) is essential.
- Related to the above point, internships require and provide different
skills than research jobs, from interpersonal interactions to specific
development tools. A company may be the only or best way to obtain
these skills, which you will find valuable in your future career as an
- Working on real products with real customers is particularly rewarding
for some people; they like to see the concrete impact their jobs have on
customers, on coworkers, and on the industry.
- Knowledge of industry is essential even for people who will eventually
find their careers in academia, if you hope that your research will have
any impact on practice. You need to know the state of the art, how
practitioners act, and what they really need. A superficial knowledge,
or just listening to what they say they need, is not sufficient.
- Internships tend to pay much more than summer academic research jobs.
I personally benefited enormously from my summer internships and my years
in industry before I became a professor. I recommend that every
undergraduate student work at a company for least one summer (and possibly
more), and I recommend that every graduate student work at a company one or
two summers (but usually no more, because research takes priority at that
level). You might also want to read my advice on
internships, but be warned that that text is very sketchy and that it is
geared primarily toward graduate students.
Back to Advice compiled by Michael Ernst.