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An Unpaid Intern's Two Cents

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Growing up, Vanity Fair was always a fixture on my coffee table. I knew that September would bring the "Best Dressed" spread, and that the renowned "Hollywood" one would follow in March. This summer, I was fortunate enough to participate in what will now be known as Condé Nast's final year of its internship program. I was not paid. In fact, it is more likely that I lost money, spending it on kale salads and sandwiches on artisan breads in Condé Nast's famous cafeteria. I even opted for my school's "zero credit" policy, where the internship was recorded on my college transcript, but no degree credit was actually allocated for my work at VF. But what I earned at Condé Nast far exceeds the value of any unlimited Metro Card, living stipend, or hourly wage they could have given me.

Sure, I got my fair share of coffees and spent a good chunk of time underground, in the Subway on various errands -- among other intern rites of passage. By the same token, I sat in on a meeting with Reinaldo Herrera and Amy Fine Collins debating "Best Dressed" candidates to be featured in the September issue. I took part in intern Q&A sessions with Graydon Carter and Chris Garrett, and seminars with the publishers of The New Yorker and Bon Appétit. I received an insider's tour of the Vogue office. I had an opportunity to stand in on an Annie Leibovitz shoot at her studio on Greenwich Street. I compared the 2012 "New Establishment" to an advance copy of the 2013 piece, scanning the short bios for repetition, and several of them were rewritten at my suggestion. I did photo research on stories ranging from Kate Middleton's outfits during her pregnancy to the Kennedys special issue that came out in October.

There is no other way to describe this than plain awesome. When would I ever have the chance to do any of those things, if not at my VF internship? The simple answer is never. I am not a journalism student. I am a medical school hopeful sophomore at Northwestern University with a passion for creative writing. This summer was probably my only opportunity to do something like work at Condé Nast. I was VF's first pre-med intern, a combination by which many of my colleagues were fascinated. They were interested to hear me explain why I thought my penchants for biology and writing were not conflicting, but rather, complementary. I study organic chemistry alongside poetry, and I love it. While many of my pre-med contemporaries worked in labs and volunteered at hospitals, I spent my time at a venture I believed to be just as worthwhile for and relevant to the career I hope to pursue. This is supported by the advent of increasingly popular programs like Columbia's "Narrative Medicine," which emphasize the blend of medicine with the humanities to create more compassionate and well-rounded health professionals.

My experience was overwhelmingly positive. I did not meet anyone who was not nice and extremely willing to answer all of my (numerous) questions. I noticed that while I was giving of my time to VF, the people I worked with were far more giving of their time to me. For every task I completed, there was someone in the office who could do a better job, and a faster job. This goes out to publishing interns in general -- for every interview you are asked to transcribe, someone can do it more accurately and more efficiently. Regardless of how mundane the work may seem, you are learning invaluable interview tips and listening to confidential recordings from the people whose positions you aspire to, and should feel lucky that they are giving the assignments to you. Even for every coffee run you are asked to make, there is someone who is more familiar with the coffee order, can locate the Starbucks more quickly, and it's likely due to the fact that they were once in your position. So you can chalk up face time with editors, writers, researchers, and stylists, who you are now separated from by one degree to whatever the hourly wage comes out to be, based on your small stipend, or you can accept the experience for its face value: priceless.

I learned how to fact check, do original photo research, and navigate the annals of Condé Nast's archive because people were generous enough to take the time to teach me and show me. Many of the VF assistants were once interns and were hired as a result of promising work during their internships, and it is unfortunate that such a career-defining launching point will no longer exist after this year. My VF mentor herself is a Northwestern graduate, who spent time interning at another Condé Nast brand during her college years. I loved my internship, unpaid as it was, and I am sad for everyone who will not have the same opportunity I was lucky enough to experience.