DEAR MISS MANNERS: I live in the land of unpaid internships -- Washington, D.C. I know that for internship experience to work, the employer has just as much obligation to mentor and provide a good experience as the intern has to be a good participant. It takes time, attention and patience.
During college and graduate school, I had four internships. The one I remember the most is the first summer I spent in Washington working for my Congressman. His staff identified projects for me to work on (not just mail and phones) and made me feel welcomed. I was invited to attend events and hearings with staff, and I increased my understanding of the political process.
That experience and those individuals had an enormous impact on me. Years later, I still remember their names. And I will always appreciate the opportunity his then-chief of staff gave me by offering me the internship.
If companies and institutions want to hire interns, then they have the obligation to mentor, teach and provide good learning environments. Whether it's a medical-research facility that has a young biologist running samples, an MBA student learning the ins and outs of an investment institution, a law clerk whose summer project is researching a new ruling, a political intern learning the chaos of a political campaign or a student nurse experiencing public health care in rural America, it is rewarding only when some degree of structure is in place, mentors are assigned and an opportunity for questions and answers is allowed.
It may mean that an employee has to spend more time explaining how to do a project than it would take him/her to do it alone. Internships are about the process -- they are learning experiences. Employers shouldn't offer them unless they are willing to invest the time of their full-time staff in a teaching role. Otherwise, they are wasting the intern's time.
GENTLE READER: That possibility does not scare many employers as much as you imagine.
They would argue that the ability to observe how the operation works is enough compensation for the menial tasks the inexperienced intern is able to accomplish. But there are others, such as you have been fortunate enough to encounter, who see it as the opportunity to audition employees, and to see how far they would go with directed training.
Certainly, the latter situation is more desirable if you can get it. But Miss Manners urges you not to discount the former one if it is someplace you might like to work. Every office has someone who enjoys expounding on the mechanics of the place, perhaps throwing in its secrets, and the intern can supply that scarce quality, the fresh ear.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Hearing a married person being called single really gets to me. This term is being used for people who have been separated one hour, planning a divorce or have a divorce in process. Single means one. If you can't take out a marriage license, you must be married and one of two! Thanks for letting me rant.
GENTLE READER: Sorry about whatever happened. Miss Manners is afraid that this is why etiquette recommends proper instructions over encounters with strangers, even Googled strangers.