Relegated to an intern

I reported a few weeks ago about the shameless exploitation of a college student by Federation of American Scientists. Emily Hesaltine received quite a bit of attention for her work. How does that justify that she shouldn’t be paid? The worst part is that the Federation can’t get over how cheap it is to exploit eager students: For the record, it cost them more money in lawyer time to write the letter then it did for us to create the entire website.” (not to mention how demagogic it is to put a rewriting against an original creation)

Emily’s experience also comes with a lesson: for thee same responsibilities, “internships” are rarely as much recognized as a real job. Just look at this paternalistic comment:

Joanna Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Homeland Security, said in a statement: “However well intended, the work done by the Federation of American Scientists, relegated to an intern, runs the risk of confusing rather than benefiting the public.” (Intern takes on Read.gov, Times Dispatch, September 3, 2006)

Sure, the spokeswoman is trying to be mean by pointing at weaknesses. But it goes to show that being an intern is just not as recognized as an employee’s worth of a paycheck. Students, think about it before accepting an unfair internship in the name of career advancement. A real paid job may better show your value.

If the Department of Homeland Security was upset at being ridiculed by an unpaid staff, a better strategy would have been to ask: “Let me look at this internship to see if it’s legal.” Sure, it avoids the real debate over preparedness (which is not the topic of this blog) but by questioning the legitimacy of such a high profile “intern”, the US government would have attracted well-deserved attention to its own law.

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