Interning From Home: What Happens When an Internship Goes Virtual

By Lark Izenson


As June quickly approached, I dreaded- but, also, expected- an email from Chemistry, the ad agency in Atlanta where I would be interning for the summer, informing me of the program’s cancellation. With the last few months of my sophomore year STOLEN from me, I returned home to spend my days binging Gossip Girl for the 6th time and looking up “coronavirus symptoms” on Google every 20 minutes, convinced- no, seriously- I definitely have it this time. 


The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the cancellation of, among many other things, summer internships for college students and recent graduates. A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that around 80% of employers nationwide have made changes of some capacity to their programs, some cancelling them completely. The advertising industry is no exception, but some agencies have opted for creative solutions rather than cancelling their internships altogether. 


Pereira O’Dell worked with The City University of New York on an initiative called “Save the Internships,” encouraging agencies to “keep their promise to diverse and inclusive talent” by continuing internships- despite having to conduct them virtually or shorten their duration. The initiative pairs college students with paid internships at New York agencies, offering three different options for agencies that have chosen not to proceed with traditional internships for the summer. 


Luckily for me, Chemistry decided to move forward with their internship program, working through a number of adjustments to allow it to run as smoothly as possible and saving me from my summer of boredom. 


That being said, a virtual internship does not come without its challenges. With communication being a vital part of advertising, it’s important for me to make sure I’m not only staying on top of things, but making sure others are on the same page as well. I constantly need to be in contact with my mentor, Kristin Szekalski, to let her know if I have to miss a meeting or reschedule, if needed. Admittedly, I found this difficult at first, but I have quickly learned to prioritize communication- whether it be through email, Slack, or otherwise, to be sure I am “where” I need to be. 


Chemistry is conducting their internship program virtually via Zoom, a software I am all too familiar with given it was how I attended my classes for the latter part of the semester. So far, the other interns and I have sat in on client calls (sporting our own colorful “Chemistry Intern” Zoom backgrounds) and attended “Meet the Chemists” and “Chem Class” presentations with agency staff.


In “Meet the Chemists,” we were introduced to all the different departments within the agency and the people who work in them. It was a great way to get to know the Chemistry staff and learn about their jobs and experiences, despite not being able to work with and around them every day in the office. Through “Chem Class,” led by Katy Leuschner and Matt McClaren, we learned relevant skills for navigating the advertising industry- from landing a job to telling a good story- that will help us far into the future in our careers. We even conducted our own weekly trend report, The Spill, for the entire agency through the video conferencing app. 


But even with virtual internships continuing, interns like myself miss out on the experience that comes with in-office agency life. However, our supervisors and mentors have been doing all they can to emulate this experience while working from home. To continue a tradition of the interns and mentors having lunch together on the first day of the internship, Celeste Hubbard, Group Account Director and our (amazing) internship supervisor, ordered sandwiches for each of us and had them delivered to our homes to eat during a virtual lunch meeting. Along with lunch, “swag” packages were mailed to each intern, including fun goodies such as hats, pens, notepads, and tumblers. 


And while I definitely wish I was going into the agency every day, the extra 30 minutes of sleep I get and effort everyone has put in to making us feel connected from home has made it well worth it and an invaluable experience I will never forget!