Tool #3: Choosing the internship route

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If you have decided you want or need to do an internship, here a few suggestions to help you when considering where to go:*

a) What is it that you would want to learn or know more about? An internship should be a learning experience that allows you to explore what you don’t already know. Avoid contributing to a destruction of wages and the value of design work by offering expert skills for free: if someone is looking for a Photoshop expert, then this is not an internship but rather a job that should be paid accordingly.

b) What is your thematic field of interest? You could do an internship in an organisation that is not focused on design, but on the issue(s) you are interested in. This would allow you to make connections and to start considering with more depth and complexity how you could contribute to the field with your design skills.

d) What kind of organisational forms are you interested in? Small studios, big agencies, workers’ co-operatives, charities?

e) Where would you want to live and work once graduated? The internship will allow you time to live in that place and to figure out if the place and the context is actually interesting for you.

f) How much money can you realistically invest in doing an unpaid or underpaid internship? Avoid overspending and getting into financial difficulties, as this will make things only more problematic later.

Reflections by Dario Galli (interior architecture graduate, Politecnico di Milano) on his self-organised internship:

The last year of the course in interior architecture comprisesed of a compulsory internship. The idea of working for free with a private architecture studio did not fill me with enthusiasm. I would have much more preferred to use the hours of the internship to work on a project of public benefit.
So in collaboration with the director of a kindergarten, I wrote an internship proposal that comprised of the planning of a garden for the new school made together with the kids, the teachers and the educational collaborators. Once the university commission approved the proposal, I began to participate in the educational life of the kindergarten by proposing workshop days for all the kids at the school. The team of 100 designers ranged from the age of 3 to the age of 62 years and within a few months moved from the brainstorming phase, through to building scale models to the final project.
The kids learnt how to work together and to design (even how to read a floorplan!), while the adults perceived necessities and desires that had not been expressed before. This was an experience of participatory planning and design with lots of people involved within a bureaucratically rigid structure and thus had an incredible value. In this process, I had to study a lot to overcome lacks and insecurities. But after this self-organised internship, I wrote a final theoretical thesis on infancy and participatory planning and design.


* Although with the Bologna Process, which unified education across European countries, internships have become compulsory for BA students, there is still rather little quality control exercised by universities over the kind of working/learning situations students enter into.

Last edit: 05.06.2014