Sections

Commentary

Opportunities and challenges in my remote internship at Brookings

Brookings building

Bumping into scholars in the halls is replaced with online meet-and-greets. The professional office setting is replaced with a background from your own home. COVID-19 has changed the world dramatically, including the switch to remote work. And interns like me, a college senior, who at the start of 2020 were beginning to think about their post-college careers, have had to navigate a new way of working and learning that has offered a myriad of new opportunities and challenges.

As an intern working from my home in Southern California, I have experienced firsthand how the pandemic has fundamentally shifted the professional world with lasting effects that will change the way of work for years to come. I began my Brookings Institution internship in October, more than six months since the institution’s workforce started working from home. During my time as an intern in the Office of Communications, I’ve assisted with authoring blogs, tracking media impact, and contributing to outreach strategies. To my benefit, these sorts of tasks were easy to do remotely, facilitated through virtual meetings and chats. I’ve also enjoyed having supervisors who directed me through meaningful projects and offered me a valuable role within the wider communications team. Brookings Human Resources has also been exceptional with creating intern-centered social hours to create a space to connect with fellow interns in a virtual setting. My colleagues have truly fostered an impactful internship experience and have invested a lot of effort in my professional development, even when remotely.

More flexibility FOR NETWORKING AND FAMILY …

Interning from home has given me flexibility that I hadn’t sought initially during my internship search process, but I’m grateful to have had. If I had been in Washington, D.C., I would have spent my time at the Brookings office building on Massachusetts Avenue, in class at D.C.’s University of California campus, and exploring the DMV area. But because this was not possible, I have been able to fit more on my plate by pursuing different opportunities that I may not have had otherwise.

time is a much-appreciated resource for class finals, job applications, and management of the unpredictable pandemic.

This fall, I volunteered with a local candidate in her campaign for political office in my district. I also wrote several new stories for my university’s daily newspaper, a task that I had long wanted to work on. Most importantly, I was able to spend more time with family and friends (Zoom parties!) after having lived in college dorms throughout my undergrad years. Being able to see my parents and sisters on a daily basis was a nice reminder to enjoy the time I have with them and of the importance of a healthy work-life balance. The pandemic allowed for a break from the busyness – something several of us may not have wanted to admit in a pre-pandemic world. In reality, working from home has given me more of the scarcest resource: time. And as a soon-to-be college graduate stepping into an uncertain job market next spring, time is a much-appreciated resource for class finals, job applications, and management of the unpredictable pandemic.

Additionally, I have been able to start building a new network with colleagues at Brookings. As a remote intern, I quickly learned the importance of taking the initiative to set up virtual coffee chats to have the conversations I may have otherwise had informally by the office water cooler (I heard that the Communications office has a large kitchen and fancy water cooler). With many colleagues who are busy with work responsibilities and personal commitments at home, interns must learn to be proactive about scheduling time to meet with staff members. This was daunting at first, but I found it actually easier to talk to people over Zoom who may not have been as accessible in the office setting. By finding a quick 30-minute time slot with staffers, I’ve been able to gain career advice and insight that helped make my internship experience more purposeful.

… BUT Missing out on being in D.C.

I and other remote interns who have interests in politics and policy have lost opportunities to engage with the political hub of the nation.

However, COVID-19 has also taken away many of the aspects I had most looked forward to as an intern. Having lived in California for most of my life, I was eager to move to Washington, D.C., for the semester and finally enjoy colder weather, changing seasons, and this year’s presidential election right in front of the White House. I looked forward to sampling the East Coast lifestyle characterized by its busy work ethic and obsession with politics. In addition, I had hoped to network in-person with colleagues in Brookings and with others around Capitol Hill, including fellow interns trying to create a footprint in the professional world. While it is comforting to know that Washington, D.C., is not going anywhere in the post-COVID world, I and other remote interns who have interests in politics and policy have lost opportunities to engage with the political hub of the nation.

Aside from missing out on the D.C. lifestyle, other real-world implications have affected all remote interns in the age of COVID-19. The very nature of a remote internship means that we are not getting the experience of working in a professional setting. I’m missing the chance to figure out my quickest commute, to plan office-professional outfits, or to socialize with others in the organization – all because there is no opportunity to do so in person. As college-age interns like myself enter the workforce in the coming months and years, many of us going into entry-level jobs may have very little experience in an office setting, or perhaps have even never stepped into an office before. This is a disappointing loss because learning about office culture is an important part of starting a career, yet remote interns are only gaining a glimpse of it from their computer screens. Moving into an uncertain future where remote work seems indefinite, it will be important to examine how remote work forms a culture of its own.

Looking to the future

So, I ask myself, “Where do I go from here?” An intimidating question for anyone, but especially for a college senior stepping into the workforce, but, at least at the start of 2020, I had anticipated that “normal” experiences would slowly unravel the answer. When the transition to remote work began, I was just at the start of my internship search process. I knew I wanted to pursue an internship regardless of its remote nature and shortened length of time, however, because it was important for me to gain experience and learn how the field of communications functions at a professional organization. But, the reality remains that the pandemic has left people and the economy hurting and the job market stagnant.

2020 has been an extraordinary year, to say the least, and my remote internship has also been anything but ordinary.

Nonetheless, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to intern with an institution as remarkable as Brookings. Unfortunately, it will soon come to an end, and I’m anxious to think about how the world may change within the span of 6 months from the new year to my graduation in June (the pandemic has shown a lot). And beyond June seems even more uncertain. My remote internship has been beneficial regarding the work I am being exposed to, but there are still certain parts of career-building that can’t be replicated online. I am still hopeful, however, that I will be able to slowly but surely find the answer to the question of what’s next through future positions and experiences, whether interning, volunteering, or some other opportunity I find.

2020 has been an extraordinary year, to say the least, and my remote internship has also been anything but ordinary. The Brookings Internship program has done a commendable job making remote interns feel valuable to the team and that our work is advancing the larger mission of the institution. I can walk away from my internship with the Office of Communications happily knowing that I have gained important experiences to add to my professional toolkit that will be critical when I enter the uncertain job market. As we approach the new year, when I hope we will start to put the pandemic behind us, I am encouraged by employers like Brookings where remote work opportunities can be impactful even while the definition of “going to work” remains in flux.

Author