This past summer I had the opportunity to work as a Marketing and Communications intern at an environmental non-profit in the Bay Area. It was a part-time commitment and a remote internship, meaning I could work from wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Besides a weekly conference call with my boss updating her on what I’d worked on, I was free to finish the assigned tasks at my leisure. I don’t mean to undermine the work that I did because it was important, meaningful and a great learning experience, but it was not demanding by any means, and I found myself wondering if I was not getting the true “internship” experience.
I had friends who interned in different countries like the UK or China, friends who worked at well-known companies in the Silicon Valley or New York, friends who stayed on campus pursuing research, among other amazing opportunities. And then there I was at home in my room, sitting on my laptop for my internship. Compared to the people who were waking up early, commuting to their workplace, meeting co-workers, dealing with bosses and producing tangible results in their project, I felt like I was being less productive, like my work was less valuable. Perhaps in some ways, that was true – I wasn’t getting the real-life experience of going to work.
However, I would not change my remote internship experience for another summer opportunity. This realization came upon me after changing my mindset about how I was defining “productive” and “valuable.” Doing a remote internship taught me the valuable skill of time management – learning how and when to get projects done without strict deadlines or assigned hours of work. It also taught me crucial communication skills, as the primary interactions I had with my bosses and co-workers were through email. Because of this, I learned to be succinct yet clear, formal yet friendly in my online communications.
Furthermore, due to the mission of the non-profit I worked for, my remote internship taught me about the importance of everyone’s role in conserving our environment. Did you know that at the current rate of littering there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by weight in 2050? Gaining such skills and knowledge, I realized, is what made my experience extremely “valuable” for me.
More importantly, over the summer I redefined what it means to be “productive” in my eyes. Yes, getting summer experience in the field you want to pursue as a career is productive. Yes, making connections and networking with people is productive. Yes, having one more line you can put on your resume is productive. However, the remote internship gave me the time and flexibility to be productive in different ways.
When I wasn’t working on internship projects, I checked 15 books off of my “want-to-read” list. I wrote fiction for fun, which is one of my biggest passions that I never seem to make time for. I hung out with my high school friends and caught up on their college lives. I spent time with family members who visited from out of the country. I stayed at home and enjoyed my mom’s home-cooked meals every day, something I miss desperately during the school year.`
So yes, I may not have gotten the most hardcore, hands-on, nine-to-five work experience this summer, but I acquired a lot through the remote internship. And most importantly, I had the majority of the summer to explore my passions, spend time with loved ones and get well-rested both physically and mentally. If that’s not productive, I don’t know what is.
Contact Angie Lee at angielee ‘at’ stanford.edu.