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What Would We Do Without Interns?

I don’t know about you, but GovLoop really appreciates our interns. We try to give them meaningful (vs. menial) projects that enable them to learn something, expand their networks and advance their careers while they’re with us. We even call them Fellows vs. interns as it seems more distinguished…like the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program.

Well, I was skimming through the Fed Players series – a joint project of the Washington Post and the Partnership for Public Service – and was happy to see that they had profiled Rachel Volke, an intern at Health and Human Services. Here’s what Rachel said about her internship:

[Rachel was] involved in a variety of projects, including helping research and write a report related to the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus in parts of the Southern Hemisphere. Assigned to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, Volke has participated in many aspects of policy development and program management aimed at addressing public health. She has attended senior level policy meetings, researched public health issues and benefited from the kind of experience that no college course could accurately convey.

“I was so happy and grateful to be included in meaningful work because I’d heard stories from congressional and legislative interns who were primarily doing reception work,” Volke said. “But for me to have the opportunity to do work beyond the administrative and be able to contribute directly to the mission has been an amazing experience.”

Read the full profile here.

The article also mentions that HHS “is one of dozens of federal agencies offering internships” and that “many of the department’s internship positions are filled by graduate and doctoral students.”

That leads me to a couple concerns:

  • Recent actions by the Merit Systems Protection Board have effectively killed the Federal Career Internship Program, which will be replaced by something called Pathways…but is yet to be defined.
  • Some sources have indicated that graduate-level students may not be as heavily recruited in favor of younger, undergraduate prospects.

So I’d like to ask a couple questions:

1) What would your agency/organization do without its interns?

2) What if Federal programs emphasized undergraduate over graduate or doctoral students?

Our interns Fellows rock, by the way. I look forward to your feedback.


“Daily Dose of the Washington Post” is a blog series created by GovLoop in partnership with The Washington Post. If you see great stories in the Post and want to ask a question around it, please send them to[email protected].

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David Dejewski

I have three PMF’s (just lost one to the VA). All three are super stars and have added a great deal of value to my Programs – both directly and indirectly.

Directly, they contribute great ideas, a high level of energy and interest, and their considerable contemporary talents. I have several examples where they lead the way into new areas – like embracing social media.

Indirectly, they balance and help the rest of the team. Existing staff modify their behaviors to accept and nourish our PMF’s. They soften their approach and sharpen their communication.

My PMF’s don’t simply follow mindlessly. These people ask awesome questions and force the rest of the team to be on our toes.

And… I personally just like having them around.


I like the idea of calling interns “Fellows” and the linkages to the PMF – it is even more meaningful when, in the interest of making the experience worthwhile both to agency and student- it is followed up by providing the students substantive work to expand their exposure to the federal government. However, I agree that graduate students are not as heavily recruited it seems, as undergraduates or even younger students. I am a mid career recruit, and also a graduate student, interning at a federal agency and feel I have a lot to contribute and have been very fortunate in being involved with some meaningful projects, but at the end of the day, I have no clarity as to what the future holds as to employment, especially with the budget freeze and the demise of the old Student Program. I feel that students should be judged as to the value, education and the attitudes they bring into the public service sector rather than age.. is that not flouting some EO principle somewhere?! I feel we get so caught up in the linear interpretations of federal regulations and directives that we lose sight in what OPM is trying to achieve through its hiring flexibilities guidance. It’s unfortunate and quite frustrating – but thanks for the opportunity to contribute here!

Natalie Jennings

We just got an intern at WhoRunsGov about 3 weeks ago and I can’t imagine not having one now. Maybe we just hit the jackpot but our intern has been able to take such a load off the rest of our small staff that the entire team’s productivity is way up. @David, definitely true about keeping the rest of the staff on its toes!

I always heard younger people pick up new skills faster – languages, sports, etc. I think that extends to the workplace. The learning curve is short and mature interns know there is an opportunity to learn in the right environment, even in the most mundane tasks.

I have heard a few people say social media should not be turned over to interns. I am wondering if others think this is true or if anyone has suggestions for getting interns involved without totally turning over the strategy to them.

George Danilovics

My interns are truley awesome. Intern programs can be a real win for both the organization and for the student. I teach undergrad and graduate students part time and I tell them that they must get an internship or work experience. Schooling alone won’t cut it.

I’ve worked with some of my senior staff peers to encourage them to bring on interns. A lot of their project work is 3-6 month engagements which are perfect for an intern! Let’s not fool ourselves either, there is a financial benfit to setting up an intern program officially or unofficially. But there is the added benefit of getting new energy, fresh perspectives, and the warm fuzzy feeling you get from helping someone build their resume so that they can go on to do bigger and better things.

Chirag Patel

Hey Everyone,

I am desperately seeking internship/fellowship opportunity in gov. especially in the area of epidemiology or health scientist. I have Mph, Dr. of chiropractic and BS Biology and prog. mgmt. experience. Does anyone looking for an intern or fellow?