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The Art of the Intern

Emily Anne Gibson shares five tips to get the most out of this key college experience.

The education department interns: Melanie Harrison, Elyse Brown, and Emily Anne Gibson at the opening night party for The Comedy of Errors
(© Sam Allen)
"The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense." -- Thomas A. Edison

A key part of any college experience is the internship. Internships come in all sorts of packages: full-time, part-time; paid, unpaid; housing-provided, fend for yourself. And since a vast number of internships are unpaid, it's easy to feel like slave labor, at times. Ultimately, however, the internship is an important stepping stone into our careers, particularly in a field like theatre, when experience, portfolios, and connections are your best friends.

This past summer, I had my first summer internship. I worked in the Education Department at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey as part of their Summer Professional Training Program. This meant living in New Jersey for three months, spending just about every day at the theatre. It was exhausting, and sometimes I wondered if the unpaid position was worth the stress. In the end, I certainly don't regret it, and I got to see the fruits of my summer labor when I was asked to stay on as the dramaturg for the theatre's upcoming production. (Click here for more on that!) To me, that reassured me that being a great intern opens doors. So without further ado, I'd like to present

The Art of the Intern

1. Punctuality. In an ideal world, this goes without saying, but you've got to be on time for everything. And most of the time, that means being a few minutes early. It doesn't matter if you know your boss won't be in until 10:15, or that the seminar won't start until 3:05 – by being punctual, you send a message that you care. And things happen: you forget your laptop or get stuck in traffic. My advice? Call, and if you are supposed to be there at noon, don't call at 11:59 to say you're running late. I think it's better to call at 11:50 and say "I might be late" than to have people wondering where you are. It's responsible, and it's courteous.

2. Precision. Depending on what kind of internship you have, there might be a lot of tasks you're assigned. Your job is to do each of them as efficiently as possible. If you turn something in half-done, it's no help to anyone. It makes more work for your supervisor, and it gives the impression that you aren't skilled enough to do the work. In my experience, it's better to ask for another day to work on something than to throw in the towel as the deadline approaches. That being said, know your abilities. Figure out how to meet your deadlines while still putting forth your best work.

3. Can Do Attitude. It's easy to get stressed out and overwhelmed. It happened to me several times over the summer. The important thing is to accept everything that comes at you that you can realistically handle. This isn't the same as biting off more than you can chew. It comes down to little things, like offering to hang up headshots and responding quickly to people's requests. Making yourself helpful and useful are easy ways to become an indispensible part of a team.

4. Chill. One of the great things about my particular internship was that I was one of three education interns. We spent a lot of time together, and I'm so thankful that we had each other. I don't know where I'd be without our Friday lunch breaks at Starbucks. It's important to have people you can relax around, who are in a similar boat, and who you can – quite honestly – gripe with a bit. You should make sure that you have somewhere comfortable you can go to be alone, be it your house, your dorm, or a quiet corner in a coffee shop. Internships can be all-consuming, but you've got to give yourself time to breathe once in a while.

5. Don't be afraid. To talk to the people you work with. To make a mistake. To ask questions. As an intern, you are learning, training to be better. Professionals make mistakes – don't freak out if you make one too.


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