I read the recent testimonial “The Mine Field” published by NOTA. It was an honest account of how most of the summer internships look like. It brought back memories of my own summer internships, the period where I struggled to understand what I did wrong, the frustration of not getting into a good institute, a great program, a reputed lab.
Before I elaborate my frustration and anger on the system, let me explain how summer internships work in elite institutes, like the one I studied in. Unlike the author writes in the earlier article, it was not an unwritten rule in my college. We had to do a summer internship to avail our scholarship for those three months.
We were also told that summer internships help us improve our research skills and know how research is done, and we believed summer internships are just that. However, what is kept hidden is that it is a resume-building endeavor – the better places we go to, the sooner we start, the higher are our chances of excelling in academia. But, how to get into those great places is left for us to figure out. And this is where I didn’t understand what the hell was going on.
None of this is told explicitly in the orientations, and no teacher talks about summer internships in class. All we are told is that we need to do a summer internship, and it doesn’t matter if we do it in our institute or a more elite place than our own. In principle, yes, it should not, but then why do “successful people” go abroad or to a more elite University for their internships and are often encouraged to do so? Much of this is not spoken aloud. Further, the entire process is assumed to be known by all – the subtle art of writing emails, when to write, interacting with faculties, and requesting recommendation letters (this is an article in itself. Perhaps for a later time). These skills are believed to be inherited, like height and hair color. Or, did I forget that they are, in fact, inherited by the Brahmin and allied upper caste students? So, naturally, we don’t hear back from the professors, or if we get a reply, it is often negative.
While this summarises the events before the internship, a new set of events unfold once we get back to the college. The students who did their projects in reputed labs are recognized. Shouldn’t they be for their hard work and excellence? The academic club owners (I don’t think they are democratic bodies hence owners) invite their friends to deliver student talks. These friendships usually have either class or caste solidarity.
Let’s be honest, college is no school where we all wear the same uniform, write in the same book and eat from our lunch boxes. We dress differently from the clothes purchased from different places, own different laptops (from MacBooks to simple laptops to none) and eat in different outlets. The material inequality is apparent. So, how can friendships and love blossom outside our class and caste circles? Unreasonable to expect, isn’t it? Also, in the age of social media activism, these owners are aware of their privileges; after all, they articulate Marx and Gramsci better than subalterns. The only barrier is that they’re unable to identify subalterns to provide equal opportunity!
Today I understand why I was frustrated with my lack of “success” (no, it was not imposter syndrome. Partially, maybe). Many who are lucky eventually understand the structural difficulties, but the majority blames themselves and accept that they are not smart. It gets worse when our mental health deteriorates, mainly because we fail to recognize we need help. The language of mental health is only accessible to the urban elite; others don’t get depressed, they’re just sad and lazy!
I shared a special bond with a person from my batch. We didn’t talk much. But when we met, we enquired if it rained well in our places, if cultivation and harvesting went well. I have seldom heard people talk about rains, farming, and cultivation in these places. It was such small conversations that gave hope and belongingness. During one such conversation, that person said, “our life here, whom we are going to be for the next four-five years, gets decided in the first semester itself.” It was profound. Even our teachers know who those genius kids are and those who are lazy. And, who wants lazy ones in their labs, or whose laziness manifests in their emails?
I firmly believe most of these problems shall vanish if teachers treat all students equally in the truest sense. If they accept that no student is dumb, no student is lazy, no student likes to waste government’s money, and we all have come here to just study, learn and make friends.