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Internships and Other Experiential Opportunities

Internships and Field Experiences

Adapted with permission from:

Landrum, R. E., & Davis, S. F.  (2020).  The psychology major: Career options and strategies for success (6th ed.).  Pearson

Field experiences and internships are opportunities to learn about and apply psychological principles out of the classroom and in the field. These placements are in agencies that relate to some aspects of human behavior—hence, you can imagine that many places are possible internship sites. They also differ from teaching and research assistantships in that a nonfaculty member at the placement site typically supervises field experiences. A faculty member often serves as the departmental coordinator of the field experience or internship program.

If you do an internship in your community, what might you do? You might be an intern at a social service agency, assisting in intake interviews, psychological testing, report writing, or behavior modification. You might be an intern in a human resources department, where you learn to administer structured interviews, write performance appraisals, and coordinate special projects and programs. The opportunities are endless. In some instances, if an internship opportunity is not available to meet your needs, you may be able to arrange your own specialized internship.

Blanton (2001) developed an internship model for undergraduates based on the Chickering and Reisser (1993) model of college student development. The Chickering and Reisser model generates four primary tasks for undergraduate students: (a) increasing self-awareness, (b) managing emotions, (c) increasing integrity, and (d) developing purpose. In this model, increasing self-awareness is achieved by achieving the latter three tasks. How does this apply to internships?

The potential benefits to completing an internship include

  • practical, on-the-job experience
  • development of professional and personal confidence, responsibility, and maturity.
  • understanding of the realities of the work world and acquiring human relations skills.
  • opportunity to examine a career choice closely and make professional contacts.
  • opportunity to test the ideas learned in the classroom out in the field.
  • opportunity to make contacts with potential employers.
  • enhancement of classroom experiences.
  • learning what careers not to pursue.
  • development of skills that are difficult to learn and practice in the classroom.
  • college credit in some, but not all, circumstances.
  • possible earnings to help offset college expenses.

What Interns Do

 What will you do as an intern? Ideally, you will get a realistic glimpse of the types of tasks necessary for success in a particular office or agency. Where appropriate, you will have the opportunity to acquire new skills and hone those that you already have. Internships are not designed to provide agencies with extra office staff, although you may occasionally be asked to help pitch in when agencies are under time or budget constraints. Although you might not be conducting a group therapy session, you might sit in on such a session and help facilitate that session under the supervision of appropriately trained and licensed personnel. Most students have an invigorating internship experience, we have known some students who come back from an internship with the conclusion “I definitely do not want to do that for my entire career.” This decision is a very valuable outcome of the internship process.

The Importance of Internships and Experience

Created by Megan Basura, Travis Fishburn, Michelle Juarez, Ashton Owens, Alexandra Taylor, and Kylie Wingrove, PSYC 487 Capstone Perspectives: History & Systems, Fall 2018

Employment after graduation (Pickett, 2017)

  • Experience puts you on the employer’s radar
  • 44% of employers said that meeting the qualifications is not enough to prepare students for the workforce.
  • It is imperative that students get real-world experience throughout their university years.

Internships (Jones, 2017)

  • High quality organizations use internships to find and vet prospective applicants for entry level positions.
  • Completing an internship is indicative of a seriousness of purpose on your part in planning and pursuing your career objective.
  • Internships show that you are employable and also show commitment and passion for that line of work, if you follow the same path in a career as your internship.
  • Allows you to evaluate a company before applying for a position with them.
  • “If you show up in your final year of college – let alone beyond – without meaningful, relevant internship experience or something comparable, the odds are very, very slim that you will secure an attractive opportunity”- Jonathan Jones

Explore your career (Pickett, 2017)

  • Work experience is crucial as a student and prepares you for the range of jobs you may experience in your career.
  • Test various types of jobs to find out if you are suited for them and if they interest you.

Experience the world of work (Pickett, 2017)

  • Many jobs are willing to work around the student’s class schedule.
  • Develop employable skills such as communication and negotiation.
  • Build time management skills as you balance your work and class schedule.

Alternative ways of gaining experience

  • Research Assistant/Teaching Assistant/Peer Advisor
  • Participate in a research project
  • Volunteer
  • Tutor/Learning Assistant
  • “In the end, the one thing you absolutely cannot afford to do is nothing”- Jonathan Jones

Activity:

While it is important to keep an open mind and be flexible about potential opportunities, it will be helpful for you to start off with specific goals and ideas about what you are looking for in an intern position. Consider the following questions…

  • What type(s) of organizations would I like to intern at?
  • What population would I like to work with?
  • What do I want I want to observe?
  • What types of skills do I want to develop or practice?
  • What size of organization would I like to intern at?
  • Where do I want to be geographically? (It sometimes helps to narrow down to just a few locations)
  • What are my strengths? What can I offer an internship site?
  • Are there specific companies I already know of that fit my qualifications or are my “dream” internship site?
  • What requirements do I have of an internship? (paid/unpaid, credit/noncredit?)