3 months into a Computing degree and I soon realised, internships were a real obsession. Having just started learning to code properly, the prospect of trying to make a valid contribution at some major company over the summer seemed completely premature. I definitely wouldn’t have the adequate skills not to feel completely useless and I definitely wasn’t an intern worth paying for. Yet despite that, I was surrounded by people frantically scurrying for an internship in their first year, applying left right and centre for a position. Its a frightening environment, because if you remain idle, you suddenly feel like you’re being left behind. You question your judgement and you start to think “should I be doing that too?”
Imperial is naturally a competitive environment, everyone achieved good grades and having immense drive to get ahead might as well have been part of the entry criteria. Still, I came to university with a slightly solemn view that all the hard work I had put in for the IB, all the small sacrifices (i.e. a social life) I made to get good grades were ultimately not worth it. Looking back, I either could have achieved similar grades with less work, or I would rather have got slightly lower grades and enjoyed myself more. In fact, when I started university, I was determined to have a good time, adamant not to let studying take over my life.
They say that if you time manage well, you can always fit in what you want to do, but let’s be honest, if you’re at Imperial you’re 300% more likely to prioritise getting a first over having a good time. So, its in the middle of this, completely bizarre atmosphere of constant achievement that I find myself wondering, what motivates all of these high achievers. Are they pursuing internships because it brings them enjoyment? Or because it brings them advancement, better career prospects, a better looking resume… You know what they say about high achievers, they were so successful at every turn, that they’re driven by fear of failure… maybe all these people are just blindly pursuing what is perceived as the ‘right’ thing to do.
Back in secondary school, when I was preparing my university applications, I couldn’t help feeling that gaining entrance to a top university was just like playing a game. How many achievements can you collect? How can you most effectively ‘demonstrate’ your interest? How can you make yourself stand out? In the world of selective entrance, you either learn to play and play well, or go home. Its no longer about being brilliant, it about how well you can to prove it, quantify it, and write essays about it. I came out of the process adequately disillusioned and totally sick of it, only to find out that at university nothing is different. The prize has simply turned into gaining entrance into ‘prestigious’ graduate schemes.
Internships help us experience the workplace, discover our interests and options in the industry and certainly I agree they are an important aspect of any vocational subject area, but I think we need to properly evaluate why we are doing them before we blindly write applications. Right now, I see them as a necessary evil, a means to embellish my resume. Yet like a hypocrite, I am able to express all the problems with this behaviour while begrudgingly partaking. Basically, I did it anyway (after all I didn’t get this far by following my heart and having a moral compass) and after spending the last 3 days writing applications for spring programmes and summer internships, I still think it nothing less than soul selling.