Interns on Internships: Why They're Really Worth It

Internships have been at the center of a growing—and increasingly publicized--storm of malcontent lately, with protesters arguing that they should be paid and hours should be more tightly regulated. One unpaid intern is even suing Hearst. And yes, interns have been asked to pick up dog poop, or worse. But are all fashion internships truly horror stories? We recently attended the Pratt, Parsons and FIT student designer shows--so what better time to talk internships than with the city's hardworking design students, some of whom did up to six internships during their schooling. Here's what they told us.
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Internships have been at the center of a growing—and increasingly publicized--storm of malcontent lately, with protesters arguing that they should be paid and hours should be more tightly regulated. One unpaid intern is even suing Hearst. And yes, interns have been asked to pick up dog poop, or worse. But are all fashion internships truly horror stories? We recently attended the Pratt, Parsons and FIT student designer shows--so what better time to talk internships than with the city's hardworking design students, some of whom did up to six internships during their schooling. Here's what they told us.
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Internships have been at the center of a growing—and increasingly publicized--storm of malcontent lately, with protesters arguing that they should be paid and hours should be more tightly regulated. One unpaid intern is even suing Hearst. And yes, interns have been asked to pick up dog poop, or worse. But are all fashion internships truly horror stories?

We recently attended the Pratt, Parsons and FIT student designer shows--so what better time to talk internships than with the city's hardworking design students, some of whom did up to six internships during their schooling.

Here's what they told us.

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YES, INTERNSHIPS SOMETIMES SUCK… The biggest complaint that students had are the long hours they’re expected to work, usually for free. “You’re expected to do a lot and you’re expected to be grateful for the opportunity and you always are, but to a point that’s sometimes unreasonable,” Kate Gross, a graduating Pratt student who’s done four internships told us. “I’ve stayed at internships 13-16 hour days.” For fashion design students, the last two years are particularly grueling so trying to fit it all in can be a challenge.

Rosa Ng, a FIT senior who started the site Quality Control, where fashion students can anonymously go to rate their fashion internships, said she’s definitely felt taken advantage of by companies, doing the work of a paid employee—like doing patterns and draping. She said that a company’s expectations are sometimes different from students’. “They tell you 9-6 but then they tell you sometimes you have to stay longer," Ng said. “When you tell them you have to leave, they give you a LOOK that you totally understand. And [then you think], ‘Oh I’ve got to stay.’"

Amy Layton, a Parsons senior said, “[I’ve had] all-nighters during fashion week where I was working my butt off for free. Then you get up and do it all over again.” Mary Beth Bachand from Parsons noted that in addition to the long hours, there are definitely some small indignities inherent in the internship experience, like “getting yelled at.”

…BUT SUCK IT UP AND YOU’LL LEARN SOMETHING Lest you think these students were whining, every single one we talked to said their internship experiences were overwhelmingly positive. Ng from FIT acknowledged that the benefits outweighed the negatives. She worked at Alexander McQueen in London and put in 80 hour weeks but “loved it” because she learned so much. Layton agreed saying, “It all pays off. I’ve built some good relationships.”

Pratt senior Meredith Lyon said, “I’ve benefited in some way or another from all of them. You learn about human nature if anything!” One senior at Pratt had a very pragmatic take on the whole thing. “An internship is basically free education,” she said. “We pay so much for school, being unpaid as an intern isn’t necessarily slave labor because you’re learning something. But if you’re not learning or getting anything out of it then obviously that would be bad."

LEARN HOW TO MAKE YOUR INTERNSHIP WORK FOR YOU

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HOW TO GET SOMETHING OUT OF YOUR INTERNSHIP:

LEARN TO SET LIMITS A few students told us that you need to learn to speak up for yourself. Kelsy Carleen Parkhouse from Pratt, who’s done six internships, knows a thing or two about this. “I think it’s really important as an intern to set your own limits and only commit to what you’re actually comfortable committing to,” she said. Can interns actually say, “No”? “I got better at it the more internships I had,” Gross (from Pratt) said. “It was difficult to say no at first.”

ASK FOR HELP Jennifer Minnitti, the chair of the Department of Fashion Design at Pratt (where design students are required to do an internship), said that the department makes site visits and that she expects students to report back with negative experiences. “This kind of behavior has gone on for a long time, but now people are reporting on it, so that’s good news,” she said, referring to recent reports of interns being taken advantage of by companies.

Angela Tsuei-Strause, Parsons’ director of Career Services, definitely has a few negative internship experiences arise every semester that require her support, “But it doesn’t happen as often as you’d think,” she said.

So are the horror stories true? Sure, some of them are. This is an industry that's all about drama and glamor and big egos...go figure. But for all the talk of Millennials as an entitled bunch--like Grace Coddington saying that interns "think we owe them something," these graduating seniors couldn't have been more humble and willing to do the time. Granted, design internships are different from editorial and styling internships at fashion mags--there's bound to be less courier service-like tasks (and maybe less poop scooping). Still, these interns put in 80-hour weeks for free. With pleasure.