Niamh Melvin, undergraduate student in English Literature, reflects on her Employ.ed internship at the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas, a University of Edinburgh involvement at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Niamh explores the processes of applying to and working at the internship, as well as developing a professional skill-set. This post is part of the Learning & Teaching Enhancement Series: Careers and Employability.
The joys of Christmas and New Year’s Eve gradually sink away into February and every year students are faced with the daunting question: What have you got planned for summer? And if you are an emerging fourth year like me: What’s next? might casually be thrown at you in passing. As if graduating from structured systems of education into the absolute free-fall of life is casual. It’s about as casual as going off-grid or diverging from the sign-posted path and lowering oneself gently off a cliff. The reality is that most students will have only a vague idea of what might suit them, but no set career plans despite countless career days and company mailing lists. Whilst this imminent existential crisis threatens almost every final year student’s subconscious, there are some ways to alleviate some of the stress.
Joining the Employ.ed on Campus Internship programme was how I chipped away at the reins of my fate finally being in my own hands. A couple of webinars and applications led me to realise that this programme is highly competitive as it offers something I think most students would massively benefit from: the opportunity to experience a snippet of professional life in a highly protected and supportive environment. Workplace boundaries, managing up, and open feedback loops are often not something young graduates learn about until they have the privilege of working for a well-trained leader. However, the Employ.ed programme quickly reveals vast sets of management skills essential to working life related to well-being, professional development, and even the dreaded imposter syndrome.
So, I embarked on the application process, which mirrors the post-university job scramble as closely as possible, with practise interviews and CV edits possible at every stage. With very little experience of the Edinburgh Fringe festival as a 2019 fresher, I decided to apply for the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas internship, which required event promotion and social media management. Both skills I had been fortunate enough to practise at a student-led mental health charity the preceding year during term time.
Prior to this internship, I had attended a couple of free careers events and sought coffees with people in positions I might one day aspire to. Each mentor or professional advised taking on positions that interested me, even if daunting. I found that while I had enough relevant experience to be a competitive applicant, some skills would be entirely new to me in a professional capacity. However, there is no way to know how much you might enjoy developing a skill-set until you risk it and apply.
I particularly enjoyed the interpersonal element of supporting academics and encouraging them to develop their advertising skills to engage the public in their vital research. I had worked in customer service roles prior to this internship. However, assisting in more of a personal sense really brought me a lot of professional fulfilment and made the preparation worth it. Having enough time to really develop different skills, as well as working in different environments, meant that I was able to think about skill-sets quite abstractly over the three month internship. With the assistance of the Edinburgh Award, I started to think about how transferable some of these skills might be for future job applications or career paths.
It would be impossible to sum up a 12-week learning experience in the confines of a 600-word blog entry. However, I do think it’s worth noting that the Employ.ed programme facilitates developing vital professional skills in a safe space. Interns are actively encouraged to tackle difficult conversations and must facilitate mock-annual reviews at the end of their internship, developing important reflection skills. Whilst taking risks is important to overcome mind-boggling issues like imposter syndrome, a supportive working environment enables this behaviour and facilitates greater confidence for young graduates to navigate the workplace successfully.
Niamh Melvin is a final year English Literature MA Hons student.