OPINION | How should Tulane students spend their summers?

Taylor Spill, Contributing Columnist

Gabe Darley

Students come to Tulane University likely pursuing a fulfilling job or preparing for some type of graduate school. During the academic year, students may look forward to summer break and the opportunity to fill their schedule with meaningful activities they may not be able to typically partake in. 

For driven Tulane students, summer break may be used as a time to add onto one’s resume or gain some type of work experience. There is some sort of emphasis on finding experience within a field that a student would want to pursue post-graduation. However, these experiences may not be feasible to everybody. 

So what constitutes a successful summer for Tulane students? Is work that is often unpaid necessary for building a career in a given field?

Tulane does offer the opportunity to apply to internships through the school, however according to Kassidy Doughty, a junior neuroscience student on the pre-med track, “All of those [internships] can be really, really competitive. So if everyone is just trying to fight for what Tulane is promoting, then obviously it’s gonna be really competitive and nobody’s going to get what they need.” 

Tulane’s Career Services website offers a handful of ways that students may find internships. Handshake, career fairs and the Tulane alumni network, for example, can be especially useful for students who may not have any outside connections. But overall, it can be easier to find more opportunities with outside connections.

It is an accomplishment for one to find an internship through Tulane, as it can be difficult, but what if you want to be paid for your work? 

According to a University of Wisconsin-Madison study, predominantly white institutions, such as Tulane, on average, offer fewer paid internship opportunities than historically Black colleges and universities or trade schools. Tulane students seeking internships in their field often have to sacrifice payment for experience.

Unpaid work can be a financial burden, as student interns can be expected to wear proper business attire, acquire personal transportation and sometimes pay for their own food. Consequently, those who take no issue with not being paid are students who come from middle- or upper-class backgrounds. 

Experience, even if it is unpaid work, is not seen as a sacrifice to some Tulane students. An unpaid internship at a prestigious company or organization can lead to increased professional opportunities and the possibility of greater financial security, or in some cases, improve it, in the future. Meanwhile, students of all socioeconomic backgrounds end up seeking unpaid work, despite the financial burden it can pose.

A lot of Tulane students can say they have felt unease about their future career, including anxiety surrounding internships. This is just something that comes with being students at a highly-ranked university, as well as the workforce becoming more and more competitive.  

Jillian Greenberg, a senior majoring in sociology, said, “I feel like some of it was like societal or peer pressure. I didn’t have any pressure from, like, my parents. But I guess also part of it was like internal just for myself, because I knew if I wanted to be successful […], then I would need to start getting experiences and my legal field.” 

Some students may feel under-accomplished or hopeless watching their peers partake in highly coveted internships, while they spend their summers engaging in other activities such as a paid job or summer classes.

The fact of the matter is that unpaid internships can often reveal socioeconomic, racial, ethnic and class inequalities that exist within society. It is possible to hold internships no matter what your background is, but many other challenges can emerge if you do not come from a privileged socioeconomic, class, ethnic or racial background. 

The need for these internships can depend on the professional field one chooses to pursue. However, if you are not planning to seek work in a highly-competitive field, you can still be extremely productive by taking online classes, working in retail or customer service, traveling or gaining some other sort of enriching life experience. 

Internships can be helpful in deciding where your interests lie, but at the end of the day, summer should be a time that will help you out in the future. Whether it be working to have your own income, gaining experience in a field of interest or getting courses out of the way, summer is a great time to be productive without the pressure of a typical course load.

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