Learning from your internship

There’s little point in undertaking an internship unless you learn from the experience. Reflection is something that an intern can do to keep track of what they are getting from an intern placement.

In the context of an Internship, reflection is a process by which we consciously observe (and record) our actions and responses to situations that arise over the course of a working day. It’s particularly important for interns to do this because:

  • It will allow you to identify and articulate what you are learning from the internship. This will help you assess whether you’re getting what you need out of the experience.
  • Recording and articulating your experiences will be useful for communicating your skills to potential employers in the future.
  • For many, an internship is the first experience they have of working professionally in a sector. Reflection will give you an insight into how you operate as an individual in a professional environment and what’s important to you in a job.

There are many theories, practices and tool-kits to help with more active reflection and in turn allow for a more effective recording  of the development of skills and experience. In the 1990s Professor Donald Schön developed the theory of reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action.

  • reflection-in-action is where reflection is happening simultaneously with the activity you are doing (akin to making in the studio).
  • reflection-on-action is when you are looking back at what you did over the course of the day, considering whether you were effective and if you would do things differently next time.

In most cases, because of the time pressures of busy working environments that you are likely to find in arts organisations, you are likely to need to do more of the latter to ensure you are giving yourself enough time to reflect. There are a number of tools and templates designed to help you reflect more effectively.  This is best undertaken immediately after a days work, and many find it helpful to revisit what they’ve written later, perhaps the following day.  Also, listen to and ask for feedback, both formal and informal, from your co-workers, using these opportunities to verbalise your reflections. Halfway through your internship see if it is possible to get together with other interns working  in the same organisation, or think about joining an intern network or connecting with a wider intern programme. Talking to people going through similar experiences can be enormously helpful.

Reflection involves placing value on what you recall of any given experience or situation and on your thoughts and feelings about what occurred. It will include positive and negative experiences, and can often begin with identifying that you felt uncomfortable or that something you did didn’t feel right. For example you recall that during the day you attended a meeting where you asked a question that appeared to you to frustrate others in the meeting. Reflecting on why what you asked felt inappropriate in that moment might lead you to think about who it was who appeared frustrated. Was it one of your co-workers? Or was it someone from a different team? Was the topic being discussed sensitive? Reflecting in this way might lead you to conclude that it was less the question but the time you chose to ask it and in front of whom. Perhaps the question is still relevant, but the answer sensitive, and would have been better asked away from the meeting. Thinking about why you felt the way you did about a given situation you recall can be a constructive starting point for reflection. In this way you will be reflecting on your assumptions about what is valued in relation to what you can see valued in the workplace. In the example above it would be that you realise that discretion and considering your timing for making a contribution is more important than you demonstrating that you are listening and engaged. Ultimately reflecting will reveal to you what qualities are required for the types of jobs you are interested in.

Lastly consider ‘writing to learn’. Whether or not you use a tool to capture your thoughts, or a blog, or collect reference material etc, writing to describe images, impressions,  identify links and connections can be a productive way to reflect and also extremely useful for future more formal writing tasks such as applications or CVs. It is worth bearing in mind that some internships have the requirement of a final written report. These can be useful for both you and the organisation and team you have worked with. Remember the process of reflection can generate a heightened awareness, moving through description and analysis to evaluation can help you to see things freshly and enable your learning through doing.

Further Reading

A guide explaining reflection developed by Plymouth University, UK

A 2009 article titled Blogging as a Tool for Reflection and Learning, written by Associate Professor Jill Walker Rettberg, based at the University of Bergen, Norway

The REFLECTION TOOL download may be helpful in keeping track of what you are learning over the course of your internship.

Article by Leanne Turvey

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