February 3, 2017

Propose Your Own Internship

In addition to offering opportunities with pre-identified partner organizations, the VH@Duke internship program also encourages students to propose their own internship. To propose your own internship, follow the application instructions and note the additional information required for this option.

Tips for Creating Your Own Internship

There is no one tried-and-true, lockstep process for creating your own internship opportunity. You will, however, need to network, and that requires being proactive, persistent, and resilient. Luck also plays a role! Start by cultivating a positive mindset: You are a talented Duke graduate student with much to offer, and you are capable of building productive partnerships to advance your career goals.

Know Yourself, Your skills, and Goals

What are you good at? What experiences, skills, and perspectives do you have that would contribute to an organization and its work? As a humanities Ph.D. student, you are likely excellent at verbal and written communication skills, research, and synthesizing vast amounts of information. That, however, may just be the tip of the iceberg. Do you like to work with people? Are you a good organizer? Are you passionate about certain issues or causes?

Know the Landscape

Think about the kinds of organizations where you’d like to work. You may already have a few in mind, but spend some time online to locate others. If you are interested in nonprofit work, it is especially critical that you familiarize yourself with the organizations’ mission statements. Seek out and talk to other graduate students you may know who have positive experiences with internships. Consider how your substantive expertise and intellectual agenda—surely about some domain of culture, history, or society—connect to work environments. In what ways might your extensive knowledge be relevant for a given organization? And how might work responsibilities for an employer give you fresh perspective relevant to your main areas of study, and even thesis research?

Find Your Contacts

Your chances of success are greatly increased if you can first make a personal connection with someone inside the organization. If you already know someone there, ask for an introduction to someone in the relevant area who might be able to hire you. If you don’t know anyone, you might be able to locate a mutual acquaintance through LinkedIn, and request an introduction that way. Otherwise, a polite, well-written and concise email to the appropriate person on the staff list could yield positive results. Rather than ask for an internship right away, try requesting an informational interview first to learn more about the organization and its work. In person meetings are best (offer coffee), but phone conversations may be all that busy people can manage.

Make Your Case

If meeting in person, dress professionally. Have a professional-looking resume prepared. If the conversation is going well and you still think you might like to work with the organization, ask about internship opportunities. Have a clear idea of what you can offer the organization, and how they will benefit from working with you. Indicate when you’d be available, how many hours a week you have in mind, and the kinds of duties you’d like to handle. While you won’t be setting organizational policy as an intern, you want a position that fits your skill level and will challenge you. Nearly every professional position contains some element of grunt work, but you should not be filing or answering phones all day.

Please note that to be eligible for VH@Duke funding, the internship must be on-site. Many of the benefits of an internship derive from immersing yourself in a new organizational culture and having face-to-face interactions with colleagues.

Be Confident

If you’re still hesitant to jump in, remember that asking for an internship is an accepted (and increasingly commonplace) professional practice. No one will be affronted by your request. Also be aware that staffing is an enormous expense for every organization, and capable interns are a desirable and extremely cost-efficient resource. In fact, if an offer is on the table, you should even inquire about the possibility of paid work (or cost-sharing, if it’s with the VH@Duke internship program). Just be prepared for the likelihood that the organization may not be able to support paid interns.

Need More Advice?

See how one Duke Ph.D. student created her own internship.