That Time I Took Unpaid Internship

Hindsight is 2020.

Having said that, this is one of those things I would do differently, given the chance.

In the summer of 2007, I took an unpaid internship position at The Institute for Marine Research in St. Pete Florida. At the time, I lived in Sacramento California.

I had just completed my Geographic Information System certificate and thought getting internship work would be a great boost to my resume. I did not have any GIS experience or any office work experience for that matter. I did several assembly plant jobs while going to school including assembling servers for Apple Computers before production was moved to southern California.

It’s not that I didn’t like Florida, (didn’t venture much outside St. Pete. not even to World Disney, a two hours drive), or the work at the institute was difficult,(we were populating their database with locations of manatees carcasses), nope. None of that. It’s the fact that I relied on credit cards the entire time I was there. To make the matter worse, I had to pay cash for the room I was renting, which meant cash advances, adding up to the credit card debt.

I also had to upgrade my cell phone plan. This was pre unlimited text and talk era and it didn’t take long for me to go over the limit.

Thinking back, I did not have to take this position. I had taken some classes from instructors who worked at state agencies and Sacramento county. There’s a very high chance I could have gotten another unpaid internship in California, or better yet in Sacramento. No travel involved.

I did end up getting my first full-time GIS position while I was in Florida, though. Towards the end of the internship, I was applying for a lot of positions and this lady offered me a position sight unseen. We did everything over the phone and through emails. The position was in Fort Worth TX which makes me believe I would have gotten the same results regardless of where in the country I was at the time.

The only good thing that happened as a result of this, happened years later. In 2016, a friend of mine got a short term project in Tampa. He was looking for cheap temporary living arrangements. I contacted some people I got to know while in Florida. They happened to have some friends who had an extra room in their house and were happy to rent it to my friend. He ended up staying with them for the duration of his project.

It’s been over ten years since all this happened and I’m happy to say I don’t have any credit card balance. I have, for some reason, been thinking about it a lot lately. It could be because of the lockdown and having a lot of time to reflect on the years past, or it could be one of those year-end /new year things where you make an inventory of past mistakes so as not to repeat them.

I decided to write about this as an attempt to help whoever reads it to take a pause. Think about the decision you are about to make. You don’t have to take the very first opportunity that presents itself in front of you. As good as it might seem, there could be an even greater one just around the corner.

Former GIS Analyst in Oil and Gas industry turned Copywriter.