Illustration by Kalle Wolters

Interns are stuck at home

Work will have to wait for now

Many of the students doing internships were sent home when the corona crisis struck. If working from home is not an option, what are they supposed to do? ‘Quality trumps quantity right now.’
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Door Thijs Fens

13 May om 10:07 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:15 uur.
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By Thijs Fens

May 13 at 10:07 AM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:15 PM.
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Thijs Fens

Freelancejournalist Volledig bio Freelance journalist Full bio

Alie Hofman (23) saw the writing on the wall when the coronavirus broke out in the Netherlands. The medical student had been doing her internship at the Martini hospital for six months. ‘The first year is just a lot of instructions. We’re just observing, not doing anything to make ourselves useful.’ She had to cut her internship short.

‘All the first- and second-year students’ internships have been postponed’, confirms Remko Bezema, head of the UMCG Educational Institute. ‘People in the last year of their internship can stay, since they can actually help out in the hospital.’ 

Other clinical internships, like dentistry, have also been postponed, as has any other practical education. ‘It’s a really tricky situation’, says Bezema. ‘Students simply can’t practise on each other or dummies right now.’

Scientific internship

Students at the medical faculty don’t need to worry about any study delays just yet, since they can do their scientific internships instead. Normally, they wouldn’t get started on those until later in their studies. ‘We’ve adjusted the internships to allow the students to use existing or online data’, says Bezema. 

Alie has decided to start on her scientific internship as well. ‘I just took a gap year, so I really can’t be delayed any further.’ 

It’s impossible to be excavating in Greece right now

She and six other interns also work for the Acute Zorgnetwerk Noord-Nederland, where they check what kind of personal protection equipment hospitals, the health service, and GPs have in an effort to determine when they need new deliveries. ‘It’s a really interesting job and makes me feel useful. It’s also just nice to spend time with people.’

No set guidelines

According to UG spokesperson Jorien Bakker, there are no overarching guidelines that apply to internships right now. ‘Each faculty decides for itself, since internships vary strongly from faculty to faculty. Internships can only take place when companies are okay with it. In most cases, they won’t be.’

Approximately two hundred arts faculty students are currently doing internships, forty of them abroad. Some have returned to the Netherlands. ‘There are so many different types of internships, which makes it difficult’, says internship coordinator Esther Haag. ‘People can’t be at an archaeological excavation in Greece or teach Spanish in Madrid. We have to judge it on a case-by-case basis.’  

Haag says the aim is always for the student to finish their internship. Students who were already halfway through their internship finished them at home in consultation with their employers. Students who weren’t able to work from home were graded on the work they did do. ‘We’ve been able to help a lot of students this way.’ 

Alternative assignment

25-year-old journalism student Meri Cools was only three weeks into her internship at RTL Nieuws when all the interns were sent home. She had moved to Bunnik to do her internship but has since moved back to Groningen. ‘RTL promised me I’m allowed to finish my internship in summer, or even later if necessary. But if this situation goes on for too long, I can also do an alternative assignment.’

The UG offered Meri a different internship that she would be able to finish right now, but she wasn’t into it. ‘This is the internship I wanted to do, to experience.’ She currently has nothing to do; she’s already written her final thesis. ‘It’s the journalism master’s rule: thesis first, then internship.’ 

Internship coordinator Haag emphasises that it might be a good idea for other students to also work on their thesis right now. 

Thesis first

Martijn Meijer (23) has decided to do so. The international relations student was supposed to spend six months in Azerbaijan for his internship at the Dutch embassy in Baku. Everything had been arranged. ‘I’d spend the first week in a hotel to look for a place to live. I’m glad I’m not stuck paying the rent for a place I can’t even go to.’ 

The hardest part was switching gears

The airline has refunded his plane ticket. ‘I’m pretty lucky, all things considered. The hardest part was switching gears and focusing on my thesis rather than a job in a new country.’ 

He’d already sublet his room in Groningen, so he’s currently living with his parents. He hopes to be able to go to Azerbaijan in August. ‘I really need to finish my thesis before I go. It’s great motivation.’  

Online support

The Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB) had nine students on internships abroad. ‘Five of them have returned to the Netherlands’, says internship coordinator Nienke van den Berg.  

The students were doing voluntary internships, something that a total of fifty students decided to do. If they are unable to finish their internships, not even from home, they can do an alternative assignment to earn the ECTS anyway. Because their internships weren’t mandatory, the students won’t suffer any delays in their studies, says Van den Berg. ‘Nevertheless, it’s a real shame that this experience that so many of them looked forward to turned out differently.’

Van den Berg says the internship companies are eager to help out. ‘They want to work with the students to find a satisfying solution.’ In an effort to support the students, FEB is offering online sessions where they can talk about their experiences together. ‘How do you work from home in an effective manner? How do you stay motivated? What are your experiences? Questions like that.’

Registering hours

The Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences (BSS) is also working on solutions to internship issues. ‘But the differences between students’ issues are great’, says Ellen de Jong, internship coordinator for the psychology department. Some students can continue their work in some form, while other students can barely continue their internships at all. 

The latter are registering the hours they’re still capable of working. They might be able to make up for the missing hours later. They could also do a practical assignment to compensate. ‘That will earn them ECTS and give them a sufficient grade for the internship’, says De Jong. 

We judge the students by what they’ve done

The teacher training programme is also part of BSS. ‘With the high schools opening back up again, internships there can start again. That is, if the schools are okay with it’, says BSS vice dean Klaas van Veen. The interns have been teaching online, which mean they’re not delayed. ‘Quality trumps quantity right now’, according to Van Veen. ‘We judge the students by what they’ve done.’ 

Fighting for a spot

What happens when everything goes back to normal and students are allowed to do internships again? Will the ones who should have been doing theirs now have to fight the next batch of students for a spot? 

‘Will hospital even need new interns in September? We don’t know yet’, says Bezema with the medical faculty. ‘In that case, we might look into different types of internships. But I can’t say anything definitive about that right now.’ 

Van Veen also doesn’t know what the future holds. But he’s not expecting any problems. ‘We just so happen to be working on creating more internships for psychology students, so that’s good timing. Also, the number of students who’ll be starting an internship in September is relatively low.’

‘Arts students don’t have to worry about missing out on an internship’, says Haag. ‘Companies really need interns, especially since the corona crisis has made hiring staff expensive. The world is full of internships.’


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