Recent design school graduate Colin Fung immersed himself in as many internship and volunteer experiences as he could during his studies, and upon graduation. Here he shares the things he picked up while turning laps of the intern circuit.
The design industry is a tough nut to crack and as a recent graduate, the advice of my lecturers still rings clearly in my ears: experience is key. Scoring an internship with an agency or studio is a common goal for many students and graduates but what was formerly coveted as a tremendous opportunity to gain experience and contacts is increasingly becoming a term synonymous with unpaid exploitation. It’s a topsy turvy minefield where one internship can lead to a junior position and another doesn’t even get thanks on the way out. As a former perpetual intern, both paid and unpaid, I have developed an increasing interest in intern’s rights and the growing movement towards paid internships. I wonder how should design students and emerging creatives navigate the complicated decision to potentially give up their work rights to gain a bit of experience? And how can they make the best out of the situation once an internship is underway?
Colleen Chen — executive director and co-founder of Interns Australia, an advocacy and support group for interns — knows from experience the double-sided nature of internships. Chen was set to start an internship with a publishing house when she asked for a written contract and was concerned when she read that the company wanted to retain the rights to her intellectual property and would not take responsibility for her workplace health and safety (Interns Australia strongly recommends protecting your rights by asking for something on paper at the start of any working relationship). This proved to be an important moment in Chen’s career as it launched her passion for working towards fair working rights and conditions for interns in Australia.