Six Stages of Intern Development

The following is from "The Internship as Partnership: A Handbook for Campus-Based Coordinators and Advisors," edited and published by the National Society for Experiential Education.

Stage One: Arranging and Anticipating an Internship

When the student first secures the Internship, they experience "Intern excitement," high motivation, and idealistic expectations. There may also be some self-doubt, "Can I really do this? Am I qualified? How do I fit into the work environment?" By completing and negotiating the Learning Agreement, the Intern will develop self-confidence and more realistic expectations. The Intern becomes an "active" learner. The faculty sponsor's role is to empower the student to take an active role in problem solving and developing the Internship plan.

Stage Two: Orientation and Establishing Identity

When the Intern arrives on site, the Intern is preoccupied with new learning, information and finding an identity in the workplace. Interns may feel overwhelmed by too much information or under-whelmed by simple and routine tasks. Help the Intern realize that this is a typical adjustment period that all new workers experience. Encourage strategies that will establish their competence such as requesting regular meetings with their supervisor, tactics for meeting people, and approaching their workload.

The Internship employer may also need to consider developing some training opportunities for the Intern.

Stage Three: Reconciling Expectations with Reality

Once the Intern establishes a work routine, the Intern often finds the situation different from what was initially expected. Differences between work and school become clear: there isn't the same flexibility of scheduling, the work may not be very exciting or challenging, there are no chances of incompletes, and there are serious consequences for being late or not completing the work tasks. Help the Intern re-evaluate expectations, identify new and realistic goals, and reflect on skills and strategies already learned. You may need to encourage the Intern to become more assertive about needs and to negotiate with the supervisor.

Stage Four: Productivity and Independence

If Stage Three is successfully negotiated, the Intern moves to this stage, which is characterized by increased learning and productivity on site. Interns become more confident and self-aware, focus energy on accomplishments, and feel integrated into the work group. This is a good point to assess/evaluate or complete a site visit. Interns can demonstrate their competence and receive specific feedback on performance.

Stage Five: Closure

Creating closure may be difficult for the Intern and the site does not always facilitate it. Some Interns leave with a sense that they "didn't matter," others leave feeling that they can't get the assignments completed. This is where the value of the learning plan is evident. The plan should include procedures for documenting what was learned. Encourage the Intern to seek career advice and a letter of recommendation from the supervisor.

Stage Six: Re-Entry and Practical Application

Students need to focus the benefits of the Internship either as it applies in the classroom or to a post-graduate experience.

They may have difficulty translating the learning into skills and insights useful to job search or graduate school applications.

At this point, simple reminding the Interns of how much they learned and achieved and how prepared they are now is helpful.

Typical Problems in the Internships

The following are warning signs that there are some problems with an Internship:

  • Intimations of conflict between employer and student or between the Intern and other workers.
  • Too much "gopher" work (stapling, copying, filing, etc.).
  • Student lack of responsibility.
  • Personal or emotional problems hampering the Intern's functioning at work.
  • Sexual harassment of the Intern or by the Intern in the work setting.
  • Burnout because of over work, perhaps brought on by all the student's responsibilities, in and out of the Internship.