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Unpaid Internships - Are They Worth It?
July 22, 2021 at 6:30 PM
by Devayani Bapat
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It took you years of hard work, sweat and tears to get done with your architecture degree. There were sleepless nights spent, sprawled on the floor, a creative block knocking your brain out, cold. Endless hours were spent stressing over group projects that required coordination, persuasion, and that extra effort. You’re finally out of University, ready to take on the world by storm. You’re all set to sketch, design, create and build the career of your dreams. Remember, you’re worth it.

You get a call from the HR manager at the firm, “you’ve been shortlisted for an interview” they say. Your happiness knows no bounds. You get together your best formals, research the heck out of the firm, have all your answers prepped, and are pumped to ace your first shot into the real world of architecture. Let's fast forward to the day of your interview. The employer is impressed and ready to have you on board as an intern! Victory is yours. Just when your smile is from ear to ear, the employer announces, rather declares with a sense of authority and entitlement, “this is an unpaid internship! However, just remember that you will possibly never get such an opportunity in your life ever again. Our firm has dished out a pool of renowned architects and designed for reputed clients. We’ll revisit this conversation 6 months down the line and take it forward as a full-time role given that you excel at the internship.”

Your heart sinks, however, the thought of losing such an opportunity makes you want to grab it, with both hands. Now, this is where we step in and help you take that call. In our opinion an unpaid 6-month commitment to work, with a degree in hand, is outrageous. While many may laugh at us and say that it is extremely hilarious for us to persuade a beginner in the field to forego a golden opportunity, we have our reasons and I’m going to dive right into them.

Four Reasons why Unpaid Internships are Not Worth It

1. Lack of respect

2. You've probably spent a lot of money on your education

3. A Vicious cycle?

4. Companies care for what they pay for

1. A lack of respect

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Unpaid internships are merely a representation of the lack of respect for the profession. It is nothing but undervaluing one's skill and desire to work. An unpaid internship is malpractice in the field that tends to undermine the effort and amount of work a person does in order to become an architect. Accepting such an offer is nothing but setting little store of and disrespecting one's own profession. Many believe that if they take up an unpaid internship, they’ll get a break in the industry. While this may be true in some cases, remember that an unpaid intern is highly displaceable for an architecture firm, and there are lots out there that think like you. The minute your 6 months with the firm are up, the HR manager is sure to start recruiting for another unpaid intern, another individual willing to give up on the worth of their profession.

2. You’ve probably spent a lot of money on your education

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You probably spent a lot of money on ensuring that you could pursue and then finally achieve getting your degree in architecture. It just isn’t fair that whether it's during the summer of your course or post the course when you step out into the world that one offers you no monetary remuneration for putting in work at the firm. Internships of this nature are concentrated in larger cities, wherein the cost of living is high. Sustaining in these cities without any income is like wishing for rain in a drought. This practice then immediately eliminates a lower-income group student from the running, to move to a bigger city and pursue their architecture dream.

3. A Vicious cycle?

The minute one takes up an unpaid internship it means that they are okay with it. They believe that as a concept in practice and actuality, this malpractice is okay. It is highly likely that an individual that was previously subjected to such an ordeal in their early years, starting out might want to use this is as a practice moving forward when they are accomplished as the thought that persists is “I went through it, so why shouldn’t they.” This vicious cycle continues endlessly leading to the problem of future propagation.

4. Companies care for what they pay for!

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You’re probably going to be just another spectator at the grand show, for a company is only interested in what they invest in. This is a general thumb rule across professions, not just the architecture industry. If a company is paying you, they are interested in what you are doing, what you are learning, and how much you are contributing to the company. Unless the company is a start-up the acknowledgment of an unpaid intern at a firm is negligible. It all really continues to boil down to “Are you valued as an unpaid intern?” The harsh truth is, “You’re probably not.”

While this is essentially malpractice and must definitely be nipped in the bud, the real problem is that of the ever-growing societal divide that exists in the world today. A so-called person belonging to a privileged background can afford to take up an unpaid internship and it might even do them good whereas a person belonging to underprivileged or lower-income societal strata merely out of necessity to place some food on their plate throughout the day, cannot choose to accept such a deal. An underprivileged person spends on their education to become an architect and make something of themselves and this just defeats that purpose. This practice reinforces existing socio-economic norms, a gap that needs to be bridged, not one that needs to be widened.

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