Thursday, May 17, 2012

It's Not Just Our Organization that Gets Problem Interns

So yesterday Dean Dad posted about non-prepared interns.

Apparently everyone has problems with interns. We pay our interns. We pay them anywhere from $13 to $15 an hour. To put this in context, this is about double minimum wage or about what you might earn from teaching two summer classes.

The reason why we have interns is that we are strongly encouraged to do so. This encouragement comes in the form of money to pay them.

Let me take a moment to say that I have a different metric from assessing interns than some of the commenters on Dean Dad's post. I do not care when the interns arrive nor when they leave, as long as they do not lie on their time sheet about the number of hours that they were at work. They can wear whatever they want; my own outfits are not always unambiguously workplace-appropriate. They don't need to be able to write coherent email or communicate with other people on a regular basis.

We are a computing group and involved in research. Almost everyone on staff has at least a masters degree. Not because we are intellectual snobs but because we do sophisticated scientific work that requires a significant amount of domain-specific knowledge. Add to this that we deal with some pretty quirky stuff, and things get even more complicated.

I realize that there is only so much that you can expect undergraduates to know, but if they are going to be able to work here, they need to know something relevant. Programming in C or Fortran -- and none of the "I'm afraid of pointers" stuff that you sometimes hear from undergraduates. Or database and scripting skills. Or knowing linux well enough to be useful as a minion to a sysadmin. But you need to know something. We can deal with students who have never worked on a really large project, who have never used version control software, and who have never programmed for our particular architecture.

We do not do any photocopying. Everyone makes his own coffee. Our admin staff spend a lot of their time dealing with complicated budget issues that are subject to so many rules that they require training in accounting and frequent consultations with the campus lawyers.

You need a few semesters of specialized training before you are even qualified for our scutwork.

Unfortunately there is no program that will give us money to hire unemployed adjuncts with masters degrees who can't get summer teaching and bring them on for the summer so that they can build their skills and their resumes to the point where they can be competitive candidates for non-academic jobs.