Students and staff share the pros and cons of virtual internships and tips for using this time to prepare for future careers
Internships in 2020 and 2021 look exceedingly different than they have in the past. Most have been remote, and many students’ internships set for last summer fell through last minute due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, there are still many virtual options for internships and student jobs, according to Marcie Kirk Holland, the executive director of the UC Davis Internship and Career Center (ICC). Holland explained that the business world may look different during the pandemic, but student opportunities are still out there.
“In many ways it’s changed, and in many ways it’s still the same,” Holland said. “Really, the important part of career development is that people know themselves and what their interests, values and skills are, that they know about the world of work and what’s out there [and] that they get some experience trying out the professions that they think they might be interested in. So, those things haven’t changed; the way we go about them [has].”
Not only are there still opportunities for students to find work experience, but Holland encouraged students to prioritize finding an internship even more during this time.
“I promise you that every student that is in school right now, in an interview, is going to be asked, ‘What did you do during the pandemic?’ I think there’s no perfect answer, but people need to have an answer,” Holland said.
According to Holland, the pandemic has also given many students time to think about what career path they might want to take after graduation.
“I think that for many of us, our values have come into focus,” Holland said. “It’s not just COVID—it’s the bright light that’s been shining on disparities not only in healthcare, but in economic justice and political justice reform. All these things have converged to help people clarify what their goals are and what’s important to them. Not being able to be with people has made an impact on folks in terms of their priorities.”
In addition to giving students time to consider their job aspirations and what is meaningful to them, the pandemic has also opened up the world of remote interning, working and recruiting. In some ways such as location, the working world has become much more accessible to students.
“We’ve got companies that are recruiting at Davis that never used to,” Holland said. “An example that means a lot to some of the business-oriented students is Goldman Sachs, one of the top investment banking firms in the world, really. I’ve been trying to get Goldman Sachs to recruit at Davis for almost the entire 30 years I’ve been here, and all of a sudden in the fall, they had an information session that was virtual that they asked us to promote. So, it’s giving UC Davis students access that they would not have had.”
Another internship that is now more available to UC Davis students is with Each Green Corner, a Los Angeles-based company creating sustainable gardens to fight food insecurity in food deserts across the country. The non-profit had never recruited at Davis in the past, but this year, multiple students have been able to work remotely for Each Green Garden as grant writers or marketers.
Holland credits more companies recruiting at Davis for the first time to Handshake.
“These companies that are posting on the East Coast can just push one more button and reach campuses like ours,” Holland said. “So we are on a platform that helps us take advantage of this opportunity as well.”
In the past, according to Holland, transportation has barred students from applying to internships farther away from Davis, but since the pandemic has proven that remote work can be done effectively, more companies are embracing work-from-home models. Especially for students, the ability to fit an internship or job into an already busy schedule is helpful.
Sara Finkel, a third-year political science major, said working remotely allowed her to participate in her current internship.
“Honestly, I think just because it was online I was able to get [the internship] because it is located in Nevada in Vegas,” Finkel said. “I’ve been able to do it remotely fairly easily because it’s a lot of individual work.”
Finkel is working for the Susie Lee for Congress campaign, which is taking place in Las Vegas, NV. Although she is out of state, Finkel has been able to intern in finance—looking up donor history, contacting people for donations—from Davis.
“I do really like that I can work on this kind of whenever I can,” Finkel said. “I work on it after business hours a lot which is nice. It’s good and bad, but I think the biggest pro is that it kind of fits with my current lifestyle.”
Jye Citizen, a fourth-year managerial economics major, agreed that online internships can be a better fit for students currently enrolled in classes.
“Being able to do it virtually is cool because I don’t necessarily have to commute,” Citizen said. “I don’t have to find a way to take a train or anything like that, […] but it also allows for a lot more flexibility. I’m able to fit my internship best with my class schedule.”
Citizen is on the men’s soccer team at UC Davis, so he has to balance both his class and practice schedules with his internships. Still, he has been able to do two internships this year: one during Fall Quarter working in real estate with Project Destined, a group that sponsors a real estate internship for diverse undergraduate students, and another with River City Bank during Winter Quarter.
Both Citizen and Finkel said that despite the clear upsides of being able to intern remotely, they miss the face-to-face connection of in-person work. Finkel feels she is missing out on developing relationships with co-workers that could be beneficial later on.
“I think a big part of jobs, especially in politics, is who you know,” Finkel said. “I’m kind of missing out on running into people in the hallway and having a connection with them, or the other interns even, not really building a peer network.”
In addition to the communication challenge of remote internships, Holland is worried that many students are struggling to look for internships and jobs during this time.
“People are more stressed, things are just a little more challenging to do, and looking for a job is never top of the list,” Holland said. “It’s not like people wake up and say, ‘Well, I can’t wait to go look for a job,’ or ‘I can’t wait to get an internship and go interview and risk rejection and do this thing I don’t know how to do’ when you have plenty of other things that are demanding. So, we’re finding a […] ‘head-in-the-sand’ response to career, and I’m really concerned students are missing some great opportunities.”
There are ICC career fairs every quarter, so students looking for jobs or internships this summer can still register for the Spring Quarter fair starting on April 9. The ICC also has advisors who are holding virtual sessions where students can ask their personal, in-depth questions and get internship direction from ICC staff.
Holland said that at this time, despite the challenges, it is important that students continue to work on exploring their future careers and building their skills for post-graduate life.
“Maintain hope, and take action,” Holland said. “Don’t let the uncertainty keep you from moving. Some movement is better than no movement. So, if the situation is that someone can’t do an internship right now, or their dream job is in an industry that is severely impacted by the pandemic, […] what can you do that will develop the skills that will make you competitive when the economy changes?”
Written by: Katie DeBenedetti — firstname.lastname@example.org