(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Al-Fanar Media).
The transition from a student’s lifestyle of studying, taking exams, and working on theoretical material, to that of a professional who is required to apply knowledge practically, can be challenging. As a fresh graduate working in the field of human rights and research, I found myself lost in the process of figuring out my true career goals. I was passionate about what I do, yet still felt perplexed. There is more to achieve, I kept thinking. I started to look for internships, freelance opportunities, and part-time vacancies in fields similar enough to mine, but I had to explore my potential in a new way.
I applied for a job in a news agency but fate played its part and, by a happy coincidence, I landed an internship with Al-Fanar Media. It was scary at the beginning, knowing that I would be handling tasks that are new to me, even in a field that I am interested in. My manager talked me through it at the beginning, telling me to keep an open mind towards the tasks and that it would be a learning experience. I followed through with that guidance and learned a lot in spite of my fears.
My initial task was to update the database of internationally accredited universities in the Arab world. To be honest, I was not aware of the importance of international accreditation until then. Moreover, I was anxious because this meant working with the communications department and I thought I might not fit in. However, one of my Al-Fanar Media co-workers encouraged me to keep an open mind as I searched for websites locally and globally which had an interest in education and development and which would find Al-Fanar Media’s content useful. It was my first time to learn the techniques of backlinking outreach—a whole new world involving search-engine optimization and domain reach.
“My initial task was to update the database of internationally accredited universities in the Arab world. To be honest, I was not aware of the importance of international accreditation until then.“
I also did research on academics and scholars in the Arab region who might be interested in Al-Fanar Media’s content. I contacted several and invited them to join Al-Fanar Media’s diverse community of readers. “From every five individuals, there is a possibility of one responding to you, if not at all,” said a colleague who was guiding me through the process of reaching out to scholars. It was intriguing to learn how to keep going even if I did not receive many responses, and essential to sit back, reflect and adjust according to those I did receive. This task required a high level of self-awareness and flexibility with the criticism that came my way.
Throughout the process, my mentors made sure I would feel included in almost every aspect of their work plans. I was made aware of new projects they intended to launch and was invited to meetings with the staff and other collaborators. It was exciting to take part in the brainstorming and proposal sessions.
I felt included and valued even though I was a new member of the team and, most important, an intern, not a full timer. The sad part of the internship’s coming to an end, is that I will not be able to witness the progress of these projects as an insider. However, since I was given such an opportunity, it might mean that there will be more in the future. I leave knowing that there are possible future collaborations.
“Internships are not just a way to fill up CVs. They are among the few links between theory and practice in professional life. An internship narrows the gap between our expectations and the reality of work.“
There were a lot of challenging aspects to the internship. Working in a new field, and being assigned unfamiliar tasks and duties is not free of complications. What made things run more smoothly is the mentorship I received. I was given guidelines at the beginning of each task that were explained to me in online video meetings, and my colleagues were always ready to answer questions. I made mistakes but never met with anything but constructive criticism. Mistakes are challenging, but they are part of the process, an integral part of any internship since they are points of discovery and learning.
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Internships are not just a way to fill up CVs. They are among the few links between theory and practice in professional life. An internship narrows the gap between our expectations and the reality of work.
During my university years I used to think of internships as an essential way of updating my résumé. I got it wrong. Internships and work experiences for fresh graduates or even students are the stepping stones between what we have learned from our studies and what we can actually do. They are a preparation, with all the ups and downs that involves. Even an internship where you do not fit in or perform well in, is still a way to pinpoint your weak points and strengths, and evolve accordingly. It also opens one’s mind to new opportunities, and one’s career direction becomes less and less vague till it reaches a point where it is absolutely clear.
Noha Taha is a researcher at the Criminal Justice Unit of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, focusing on the death penalty in Egypt, with a personal interest in gender rights and bodily autonomy. She studied anthropology at the American University in Cairo.