The internship process demystified… hopefully

A few weeks ago, our cohort voiced some concerns about the internship process during Proseminar. A few days ago, I was prompted by a prospective student to describe the internship process. A few hours ago, I thought I’d write about the internship process to help any potential readers better understand how the whole thing works.

Be forewarned: I’m going for honesty here, not to scare you away, but to give you a realistic portrayal of how this year’s process happened for us. Some of this information wasn’t known to me before, and finding out a bit more about how the process worked proved extremely helpful in the end. Also, IEDP is constantly evolving as a program in certain areas, and I know that the program directors have listened to us and will hopefully make some changes both in materials provided and how they frame the process. So, please think of this account as a possibility, rather than a guaranteed reality, for how next year’s process will transpire. Also, a disclaimer: this is from my perspective; others may have viewed it differently.


Pro-tip #1: Pay attention to the internship materials/presentation you get in the beginning of the semester! I know we don’t start the process until the spring semester, really, but do look over any information provided to help clarify things.


The Official Timeline

Late November- We had to fill out a Google survey with our areas of interest (topically and regionally), along with general preferences for location (urban, peri-urban, rural) and type of work. A few other parameters, as well; this was simply to give Dr. GK a sense of our interests. IEDP can’t necessarily start the process any earlier because many of these organizations themselves haven’t thought of summer internships, or haven’t confirmed anything with Dr. GK. I know that’s frustrating and stressful in many ways, but that’s the way it is.

January 11th- We were prompted to send Dr. GK and Lauren with a detailed email about our internship preferences. This time, we had a list of confirmed partners. Dr. GK instructed us to list our top three organizations from that list, and also our regional/topical interests, our language abilities, specific notes (e.g. I have to start my internship later because I have to take a summer course; region is more important than organization, etc.), our résumé, and finally a brief bio.

After that, you just… wait. Dr. GK handles the internship matching process. Your involvement is minimal at this point: you hear from her only when there are next steps to be taken, such as choosing from a list of available country offices or when there is a formal introduction to be made between you and the organization. Dr. GK politely yet firmly reminded us in the beginning to not constantly email her for updates, because the process is a whole lot of back and forth between her and the organizations. A lot of times she doesn’t have any updates to give. Also, for each student, she can’t send out his/her resume to all three organizations simultaneously; it has to be one at a time, because in the past there has been some bad blood created between an organization and the program because of how that practice left expectations unfulfilled. Because the program was built and relies upon strong partnerships, IEDP doesn’t want to jeopardize them. Therefore, Dr. GK handles everything, which I give her a lot of credit for, because can you imagine having to match 30 (or so) students with so many varying interests with so many possible partnerships? Somehow she does it: she has always matched students with internships.

When you do hear back from Dr. GK with a formal introduction to Organization X, you contact the organization and then schedule an interview. (You have to CC Dr. GK on all correspondence with your organization.) You’ll also get a SOW (Scope of Work), or TOR (Terms of Reference) which details possible tasks that you will have during your internship. From there, you begin working on getting flights, visas, housing, etc. etc.


How long will I have to wait?

Unfortunately, it always varies. Some people got internships in February; others, like yours truly, have just gotten theirs now in April. Depending on the organizations you select, it may take a while to hear back from Dr. GK, because most of the time Dr. GK has to go through the main offices as opposed to field offices. As such, Dr. GK herself may hear back immediately or not for a few weeks (hooray bureaucracy!).

The available field offices also vary from year to year. There are some locations that are recurring (for example, with OECD in Paris), but according to Dr. GK, there’s never a guarantee that you will be working in Organization X’s field office in Country A despite having a larger partnership with Organization X. So while the list we’re given in January may seem up to date, the actual field offices may not be confirmed until Dr. GK sends those initial emails after receiving our responses.


Why am I kept in the dark?

This year, us current IEDPers voiced concern over the lack of transparency with the matching process, because sometimes we weren’t informed of why certain decisions were made. For example, I had put Room to Read as my first choice during both surveys, expressing quite explicitly that it was my absolute top choice regardless of where it had placements. The first time I had heard back from Dr. GK about my internship, it was on February 14th (so about a month about the second survey) and she gave me a list of countries to choose from that work with ActionAid, my second choice. I had to email her back asking about Room to Read, unsure of what exactly happened there, to which her response was simply, “They had no placements this year.”

The reasons for this vary as well. Sometimes it’s to protect us from disappointment. Sometimes forgetfulness. Most of the time, it’s because IEDP has to protect its relationships. Having Dr. GK initially act as the sole communicator with these organizations during the beginning stages prevents students themselves personally reaching out to the organizations and potentially jeopardizing the relationship. Not that anyone thinks us students incompetent, but it acts more as a safeguarding measure.


Lesson learned

Reach out (probably better in person) to Dr. GK more, though within reason. It’s a delicate balance, for sure, but I think it would have benefited me more to be more proactive about making sure I understand what’s going on. It’s also not like Dr. GK was intentionally withholding information from me, or the rest of the cohort. Hardly: she is honest about things, but her emails tend to be to the point, here’s-the-next-step in their wording.


Whoa. Is there anything good about this?

I know all of this sounds terribly alarming. Yes, the ambiguity was frustrating, especially considering the tension created by Dr. GK’s inconsistent emails and her insistence that we don’t continuously ask her for updates. However, everyone gets an internship.

I was also told by an alumna who reportedly stressed out for the majority of the spring semester while waiting for her internship that if she were to redo the process, she would have remained much calmer throughout because the process does actually work. That I can certainly confirm, having just this week moved forward with ActionAid Cambodia, which I’m quite excited about (and I’ll post about later!). I believe nearly all, if not all, of my classmates have gotten their placements by now. So, for all the possible annoyances, the internship process does have a happy ending!

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