You lose more than you gain - my thoughts on unpaid internships


After my first year of studying journalism at university, I wanted an internship in the industry - I thought it would offer invaluable experience. But “invaluable” experience doesn’t really exist I think. You always have value.

I understand that everyone needs a start in journalism - it’s all very well that I am sitting, writing this now while I have a steady part-time job. But that internship in London, while I did enjoy it, it made me start to hate journalism just a little bit.

It wasn’t five days a week which I was grateful for - it was at most three days. I stayed in my brother’s student accommodation because he was studying in London and I didn’t at the time have anyone I knew in London. Even though he brought food for me it still felt a bit wrong that I was doing all this work for free.

The work wasn’t too hard, it was an editorial and design internship at a magazine. My expenses weren’t covered and I was often sent all around London to deliver packages. It was also a bit scary for me. I didn’t know London that well at all, I’d never even caught a London bus on my own before. I got lost numerous times and as a village girl, it was very much out of my comfort zone. But I learnt a lot about London and how to get around it (thanks to google maps that is)!

London offered me a lot of opportunities in terms of the life experience I gained (like how to navigate London transport). I ate good food - thanks to my brother and his girlfriend - took myself on dates (because dating yourself is awesome) and met some pretty awesome people. But the internship, unfortunately, did not. I wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be, it had its highs and lows like a majority of experiences and it felt nothing like what I had signed up for.

Don’t get me wrong I didn’t imagine it to be like how it is in the Devil Wears Prada. It was just a very odd experience - working for nothing. I wholly recognise my privilege in being able to have such an experience and I am grateful for it. It was a small launchpad for my career but I don’t think it’s necessary. Especially during a pandemic where the world has shut down, there are so many ways of getting experience from the comfort of your own home. You could dabble in freelancing [link Nicola’s] or maybe attending webinars to help hone your skills for when internships re-open. Maybe student media could also be an option for you? What I’m saying is - know your worth, assess your decisions carefully and think “Will it benefit your future?” 

If you want any advice or information about my story then you’re always welcome to reach out to me on Twitter!