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“I expected herbal tea drinkers with fun keyrings”

Since early November Morgaine Das Varma has been with us as an intern, supporting the work of our communications team.
Here she explains why her time with us has helped prepare her for work in a professional setting – and banished some assumptions about the third sector

First impressions. Everyone is nice. I know that sounds like the biggest platitude, found in every earnest blog entry by an intern – I mean, even if you have the line manager from hell and your desk neighbour is a lunch thief, surely you wouldn’t mention it in your carefully crafted entries for their website? But here it really is the case.

Anybody who doesn’t work in the third sector probably has some assumptions about the kind of people who do. I know I did. My background is a Politics degree and previous internships in journalism, so I think I imagined everyone who worked in the sector to be herbal tea drinkers with fun keyrings. Aside from that, I wasn’t at all sure what to expect.

I needn’t have worried. Everyone I’ve met here is friendly, kind and supportive in the way that every intern needs from their organisation but, unfortunately, doesn’t always get. I always know exactly what I am meant to be working on at any one moment; there is none of that horrible, dragging time when you don’t know what you’re meant to be doing but are too embarrassed to ask.

I feel I have been supported through every stage so far. Not only that, but a few people have even offered to grab a coffee with me so they can talk to me in more detail about what they do. (If you’re a present or aspiring intern reading this, know that these sorts of offers are a blessing and you should take them up on it.)

I never thought I would end up wanting to work in the third sector. I graduated last year with a degree in Politics from the University of Glasgow, and subsequently spent nearly a year in a kind of rictus of terrified indecision, as I considered what my next moves would be.

Having worked in student media, I assumed I would probably end up doing something ‘In The Media’, but very quickly learned that if you are someone who wants to work in this field, there is no way to approach it casually or half-heartedly.

There’s also no room for lack of confidence or self-doubt, both of which unfortunately I have bushels of. On one legendary occasion I had a pitch accepted by a popular media site I idolised. A couple of days before publication I emailed the editor in a panic saying I didn’t think it was good enough and could they please not publish it. She bemusedly reassured me that they wouldn’t publish the piece if I didn’t want them to and out of embarrassment I haven’t written for them since.

So being a Media Person was out. I spent a few months wondering if I should throw in the towel and go and work for a nice shiny corporate graduate scheme. I was working in a café on minimum wage, could barely pay my rent and refusing to apply for graduate jobs because ‘I don’t consider them morally sound’ was beginning to get old really fast.

I also felt like I might as well be using my degree as a doormat for all the use I was getting out of it. I went through the dozens of university careers service emails and wondered if I should be a wealth advisor. (“I could be a wealth advisor!” my best friend, fellow Politics graduate and waitress mused: “I’d advise them to redistribute it to the people.”)

I began thinking about the third sector in a serious manner. A significant number of Politics graduates go into the sector and, whilst not without its problems, on the whole it is filled with nice people who want the best for vulnerable groups and seek to make the world a better place. Sounded good to me!

I began my placement with Children in Scotland at the beginning of November 2018.

Internships, particularly in the media sector, are often roundly criticised for being exploitative, under- or non-paid, and sometimes not actually that helpful for participants. But if done well, and offered with support, they can actually be a thoroughly useful and enriching experience. I can barely imagine trying to get a graduate job nowadays without having done at least one.

There’s a glut of articles out there about the state of the graduate job market, the socio-economic context of rising living costs and the rapidly changing employment landscape. So I won’t repeat the sentiments in detail again here (for many reasons, including the fact I probably wouldn’t be able to stop) but the fact remains that a placement or internship is now borderline indispensable to many employers.

But they can also be vital for allowing young people to ‘try out’ particular careers in different sectors. Popping in once or twice a week to immerse yourself in the work of a particular organisation in a sector you’re interested in can be incredibly useful in helping you decide if you’d like to focus your career energies on it.

It can also be helpful for demystifying a professional environment in general.

My background is in hospitality; since I left school at 17 there hasn’t been a period of time longer than a couple of months when I haven’t been working part-or full-time in a café or restaurant. Embittered and borderline misanthropic it may have made me, but the fact remains that I am now rather good at it and the busiest shift doesn’t faze me.

But office environments intimidate me. I worry I’ll accidentally use someone’s favourite mug or hit ‘reply all’ to an email, or commit some kind of white collar faux pas that will see me socially sanctioned whilst people laugh at my lunch in the communal fridge and steal all my pens as punishment for being terrible and weird.

But. funnily enough, none of this has happened, because everyone here is lovely and working in an office is actually considerably less stressful than a hospitality environment so far. For example, you’re far less likely to have a triple shot soy latte thrown at you by a disgruntled patron – true story.

An internship like this one is useful for helping you relax into a professional environment so you’re not too intimidated by the thought of your first office-based job.

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