By Comila Shahani-Denning- Director of M.A. Program in I/O Psychology, Hofstra University
I am looking for the collective wisdom of the SIOP membership to help me generate strategies on how to market and recruit for paid internships in this challenging environment.
Hofstra's program has a long-standing tradition of supporting its students and placing them in competitive internships. This problem must be one faced by other programs too. So you may ask, what makes Hofstra University different than any other graduate program offering practical, applied opportunities to its graduate students? I think it is our promise to prospective students that we will find for them a year-long paid internship. It is a guarantee of external support for the student for a full calendar year. Anyone who is reading the newspapers or watching the unemployment figures probably thinks we are crazy at this point. Finding internships for 20-25 students a year in this economic environment is overwhelming. In fact, I blame all my grey hairs on internship and my secret fantasy is a world where I don’t have to find internships. So why don’t we give up on them? While I would like to believe that students come to our program to be taught by talented faculty such as myself, a recent survey of our current students disclosed that 17 out of 19 students told us that our internship program was the primary reason they chose Hofstra University. In last year’s survey, one student wrote “I think my internship experience appears to be what employers want to discuss more than anything. With this tough job market, it seems that education and projects within the MA program itself do not matter as much as applied experience in an organization”. Another said: “The internship program is the most valuable part of the I/O master’s program.” Given the dwindling funding for graduate students over the years, paid internships are really not negotiable for us as they serve as an important recruitment strategy for a private university located in the expensive northeast.
I cannot tell you how often we hear from our field supervisors that they can take as many students as we need, but on an unpaid basis. While these experiences sound marvelous, almost tempting me to take one for myself, we have to decline them. Our students need the financial support. Another problem is in the work allocated to students. One of the luxuries of academic life is that I can pick and choose what projects I want to be involved in and to some extent what classes I want to teach. Students can often pick the courses they take and the topics they choose to research while in school. In an internship, while students expect and hope for intellectually challenging I/O work, oftentimes the student intern gets the left over work, the grunt work that needs to be done -- by yesterday. Often the field supervisor does not have an I/O background and we have to work at identifying some good projects for the students. My job as the faculty supervisor is to help the student take the most basic work and look for the I/O link to it. Our argument is that since I/O psychology relates to work behaviors, almost any job is I/O related. It is a matter of getting the student to see or find the link. On the other end, we can also tell the supervisor that a student will take their responsibilities more seriously when they are being paid for their work. This is not volunteer work that they chose; this is a professional responsibility that they are accountable for.
So why did I choose to write this blog? Our major problem right now is in convincing organizations that interns can be valuable employees in an economic downturn. It is tricky for employers to hire an intern while they are letting people go. Our field supervisors talk about the difficulty in managing morale when new faces are seen as organizations let old faces go. I spoke earlier of some of the luxuries of academic life. The other side of the coin is the responsibility to grow our students. I would like to hear how others have approached this issue in our tough economic times.