Effective internship in higher education: shaping bright futures

opinion March 17, 2014 00:00


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Internship is an important part in university years that all undergraduates should pay attention to.

At some faculties, internship programmes are mandatory. At others, the programmes are optional. But trust my advice: Internships are so valuable no one should avoid doing one. 
And once you are an intern, take it seriously. 
At the King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thon Buri, where I have worked as a full-time lecturer, students attend internship programmes at various organisations between June and July each year.
Before that, we nudge students to send their applications to companies or research labs based on their interests and dream careers. We have, in fact, even encouraged some to contact overseas organisations if they have a dream to pursue there. 
The place of internship has much significance because it will very likely shape the career path of the interns. 
I have seen so many people become employees of the companies where they had been interns. I have seen many students develop senior projects at the place of their internship as well. 
Even before they graduate, students can reap a lot from their internship. As interns, they will have opportunities to connect their theoretical knowledge with real-life experiences and apply the knowledge they have learned from their classes. 
During their internships, students will learn to interact with people of various age groups. During such time, they also have a good chance to develop valuable connections.
They may even meet their mentors and find sources of inspirations, which can shape their career life one way or another. 
Internship experiences can help students determine whether they should pursue a certain career path. One may dream of supervising the construction of a grand skyscraper and excel in the theories of civil engineering.
But if one is not physically fit to withstand the heat, noise and dust particles at construction sites, a person may not realise it until one is right there on the spot. 
Being there during an hours-long educational visit can’t be compared to the real thing. So, it is best for anyone who has such a career dream to get an internship at a construction company and follow engineers in action. 
This way, they know whether they are physically, mentally and emotionally up to the challenges associated with their dream occupation. 
If the answer is “Yes”, they can then go all out to pursue their dreams. The sooner the students know what they want, the faster they can climb the career ladder later on. 
However, for the internship to deliver maximum benefits, students must go to the right place. But how can young students know they have gone to the right place? 
While students should do their own research, their educational institute should also contribute.
Universities should, at the very least, make capable career counsellors available to the students. Let them guide students towards which career best suits their character, interests, aptitudes and knowledge. Let them help students narrow down the list of prospective employers and organisations they should contact for an internship. 
Time is valuable. Universities should help ensure that months of internship are not wasted.
Indeed, I urge higher-educational institutes to work closely with employers and organisations that accept interns to deliver a fruitful, win-win internship. 
In Thailand, I have heard so much about interns doing nothing but make coffee, photocopy and arrange document files. 
Some computer-programme students were assigned to manufacturing lines and work that was completely unrelated to computer programming. This is sad.
Those internship hours, these students rightly felt, had nothing to do with their studies, let alone their future career. 
Such wasteful internship should have no place in the today’s world. 
Relevant figures on the educational scene should strive hard to make it clear to employers that their firms or organisations stand to benefit from internships. If they lay proper systems, interns will be able to contribute to their workflow and join their workforce in a valuable manner. 
In fact, employers can even spot the young talent well before their graduation. 
With a great pool of young talent, an employer will definitely have the advantage over its competitors. 
Theoretically speaking, internships benefit both interns and employers. In practice, internships can deliver benefits to both sides if all relevant parties develop the proper systems. 
So why wait? All relevant authorities should now come together and create worthwhile internships for all. 
Learning scientist ,Computer Engineering Department
King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi