University News

In tough times, interns go unpaid

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Correction appended.

As spring semester kicks off and class schedules are finalized, Brown students are looking ahead to their summer plans. But given the current double-digit unemployment rate, paid internships are becoming scarce. As a result, more and more undergraduates are settling for unpaid internships and seeking financial support elsewhere. 

Roger Nozaki MAT’89, associate dean of the College and acting director of the Career Development Center, attributed the rise in demand for internships not to the current economic climate, but to their value in preparing students for the workforce.

“Student interest in internships has grown because students have seen the value of these opportunities in building their work experience,” Nozaki wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. “Because of that, the interest has grown steadily at a national level over the past several years, across economic cycles.”

However, Willy Frenzen, founder of One Day, One Job — a blog about entry-level jobs — disagrees, citing the economy as an important factor in the rise in demand for unpaid internship. “The number of unpaid internships has increased significantly during the economic slowdown,” Franzen said.

“Especially last year, entry-level hiring and paid internships really got cut,” Franzen said, “so the logical replacement was unpaid internships.” 

But college students are not the only people demanding unpaid internships. High unemployment has caused graduate students — and even previously employed people who have lost their jobs — to consider taking unpaid internships, making finding unpaid internships all the more difficult for undergraduates. 

“A lot of students who have since graduated from college have decided that taking an unpaid internships is better than doing nothing at all,” Franzen said.

In a typical unpaid internship, he said, “you have people who have graduated from college, you have adults, you have students who usually would be going for paid internships.” 

Sam Magaram ’12, who held an unpaid internship in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce last summer, made a similar observation when applying for internships.
“A lot of grad students or even people that were fired from investment banking jobs were applying for internships,” he said. “For example, one of my friends who was interning for a congressman, one of his fellow interns had an MBA.”

Harrison Stark ’11, who took an unpaid internship last summer in the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School last summer, noted that he was the only undergraduate interning in his office, where the majority of interns were law students. 

Moreover, as unpaid internships become more competitive and economic troubles prevail, competition for grants that support undergraduates taking unpaid internships is becoming steeper. 

Brown offers grants such as the Career Development Center’s Brown Internship Awards, which support students pursing low-paying or unpaid internships during the summer.
According to Nozaki, the program consists of two parts, the Brown Internship Award Program — or BIAP — which awards students a $2,500 stipend to help with living expenses, and the Aided Internship Award Program — or AIP — specifically designed for Brown students receiving financial aid, which waives the student’s usual summer earnings requirement in their financial aid package. The awards are funded by the endowment and outside donations from parents, alums and faculty, Nozaki wrote.

The BIAP saw a 30 percent increase in applications in 2009, in part due to the economic situation, The Herald reported last March. As a result, the career center increased the number of BIAP awards from 41 in 2008 to 50 in 2009. This year, however, the number of awards will decrease to about 40, according to the center’s Web site.

“The number of awards made depends on funding availability,” Nozaki wrote.

Stark, who was awarded a BIAP last summer, found the application process to be very competitive, especially with the quality of unpaid internships Brown students apply for. “You get a lot of people who want to do really effective, powerful work, and so it’s extra competitive for grants like the BIAP,” he said. 

In addition, the BIAP’s March 22 deadline sometimes conflicts with students’ internship application process, which normally ends around April. In order to apply for the BIAP, students must obtain a letter from their potential employer stating that they are being seriously considered for the internship position. This prevents some students from becoming eligible for the grant.

“The early deadline is a big stumbling block,” Stark said, “because you may not even hear back from where you’ve applied by March.”

An earlier Web version of this article incorrectly identified Willy Franzen as Willy Frenzen.