Online Internships: Do Old Practices Still Apply?

By Ned Khatrichettri posted 06-01-2020 14:36


June 1, 2020

by Ned Khatrichettri and Cameron Vakilian

Ned Khatrichettri, M.A., is an internship coordinator in the College of Humanities at the University of Utah.  Cameron VakilianM.S.Ed is an academic adviser and internship coordinator for the Department of Communication in the College of Humanities at the University of Utah. 


The rapid changes and uncertainty from both the COVID-19 global pandemic and the resultant international economic crisis are causing tremendous disruption in all areas for colleges and universities. Career service professionals—including those coordinating internships for students—are also severely impacted by these transitions. In-person internships still lack a coherent definition, and defining and assessing quality is just as difficult. Online internships occupy uncharted terrain for all the stakeholders, schools, students, and employers involved, and some employers have noted internal resistance toward them; nevertheless, many have moved online, but what is available is insufficient for the growing student demand  

Below are some questions for both new and seasoned career services professionals to consider prior to constructing your online internship offerings. The authors hope that this list— while not exhaustive—fosters robust dialogue and encourages readers to view online internships not as a temporary solution, or even a replacement for face-to-face internships, but as critical opportunities with unique challenges and advantages that may require a new lens.  


For colleges and universities: 

  • What are the criteria for our online internships? 
  • Are students getting access to resources, equipment, and virtual facilities to support learning objectives? 
  • How are we defining and measuring success—both short—and long-term? 
  • How do we want to articulate the proposition value of online internships to employers, students, parents, policy makers, alumni, and faculty? 


For students: 

  • How do we accommodate students with limited (or no) access to the internet?  
  • Is this opportunity feasible for neurodiverse students or those with a limited capacity for prolonged professional engagements or completing tasks online?  
  • Despite campus closures, can we designate time and space for students to use the internet on campus while adhering to safety precautions? 


For employers: 

  • How do we discuss online internship learning objectives with employers? 
  • What do supervision and mentorship look like within this model? 
  • How are employers conceptualizing the transition from time-oriented to task-oriented assignments?