Productive summers

Published June 9, 2023
The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives, and an associate professor of economics at Lums.
The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives, and an associate professor of economics at Lums.

A COUPLE of years back, a friend’s son spent the summer interning at a bank. Over the eight weeks he was there, he updated a couple of ‘industry notes’ on industries the bank was already lending to and was able to get a sense of bank operations in some of the departments as well. But for 40 hours a week — for eight weeks — this was very little. In fact, most of his time was spent doing nothing.

It is summer time again. A lot of students are keen to have opportunities for internships. Internships are an excellent way to: a) get acquainted with what goes on in an area, sector or firm; b) get a close look at the actual work being done; c) gain firsthand experience in some of the work; d) have exposure to the ‘real world’ and get a feel of how things are done there; e) get to know some people in the relevant sector and build a network; and f) possibly get scoped for job opportunities. For firms, interns mean not only low-cost labour but also prospective candidates for jobs.

But for all of the above to happen, internships have to be carefully crafted and constructed. Interns should get full exposure to some or all of the departments. They should be able to work on some deeper issues as well, and they should definitely be exposed to some of the leaders in the area of work so they can have a better idea of what they could potentially aspire for. In other words, interns should be made to do some real work.

Creating productive internships — productive for the employer as well as the intern — takes effort. Activities have to be carefully and purposefully designed, and there has to be active supervision. Both take time and effort. I find that most internships are not designed with the needed care, with the result that they are not productive for the employer or the intern. If you are just going to spend time sitting around, doing irrelevant work or doing tasks that are not set within a useful context, it is a waste of time. Though students might still end up getting a certificate for their ‘experience’ and they will be able to write ‘internship’ in their résumés too, it will not give the intern much. So, when choosing internships, do investigate and find out if it is going to be worth your while. If not, students would be better off spending the summer doing other things.

Internships have to be carefully crafted and constructed.

Summer breaks are long enough to allow students some time away from their curricular and textbook commitments. It is a time when students can read broadly and more deeply. Irrespective of whether or not they intern, students should definitely make a plan for their summer reading. It can be around a subject of the student’s interest or a genre of fiction. But it should not just be random reading. Some thinking and planning should go into working out a reading list. Students should definitely stay with what they find to be of interest, but the aim should be to deepen that interest through a curated list.

It is also a time that new skills can be learnt or experimented with. One of the first things I noticed when I went abroad for my undergraduate studies to England was that all my fellow students, mostly from different parts of the UK — irrespective of whether they came from public or private schools — revealed three differences in the kind of ‘education’ they had had as compared to mine. Almost all the students had had singing lessons as part of their education, and mostly in schools. Many also had solo training in singing, and some had sung in choirs or were still doing so.

The second difference was that a lot of the students, if not all, had a much deeper understanding of music as well. A lot of them could read written music. Many knew how to play the piano or another instrument. Even if they could not play an instrument, they had a much deeper understanding of music and had better appreciation as well.

The third difference was that almost all the students had been exposed to a foreign language as well, usually a European language. So, most students had, in addition to English, at least a working knowledge of another major language.

Though I went to some of the ‘best’ schools of the time (in the 1970s and 1980s) in Lahore, all of them had focused on academic and compulsory subjects only. There had been no exposure to drama, music, singing or dancing through the schools. The concept of education was quite narrow. Extracurricular activities were restricted to debates and some sporting activities only.

I am presuming the focus of most schools, even the good ones, has not shifted by much even now. We see that in university students who come to us. Summer vacations are a time when, if there is an opportunity, students can be introduced to ‘non-academic’ areas as well. It can be through summer schools, individual coaches, parental guidance or even through the individual efforts of the student. This exposure is definitely worthwhile and will go some way in making students more well-rounded.

Summertime and vacations are a wonderful opportunity for students to relax and rejuvenate. And it is an excellent time to create some distance from the tyranny of curricula and textbooks — things we take a bit too seriously in Pakistan. And to do things that can give students a different perspective or deeper engagement. This can be through carefully crafted internships or research opportunities or curated reading lists or exposure to important areas of human endeavour that are not usually covered by the schools. Happy holidays.

The writer is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Development and Economic Alternatives, and an associate professor of economics at Lums.

Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2023

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