Don’t be afraid to ask

Interning can be expensive. Living, eating, transportation. It makes it hard for people of limited resources to have the opportunity to intern. That’s why a federal judge on June 11 ruled, with potential implications for the intern market, that, in one case, interns should have been paid for doing work.

I’m lucky to be supported financially during my internships. But transportation, especially to conferences, turned out to be the most expensive part for me.

I had the pleasure of attending the Personal Democracy Forum last week in New York City. I live within commuting distance of the Big Apple, so I had offered to cover the conference for my internship. Before that, I went to a conference on media innovation in New Jersey.

But attending both of those conferences cost money. Getting from Washington to New York or northern New Jersey costs about $50 – $60 each way.

At first, I felt squeamish asking for a travel stipend on top of my internship pay. Though the latter is pretty limited, I value being a part of the PBS MediaShift team and did not want to be “that intern” asking for more money.

But posited correctly, asking for a travel stipend, or even a raise, can be the responsible thing to do. A conversation with your employer on the appropriate reimbursement for travel strictly related to internship work is not only good for your wallet, but it’s the grown-up thing to do.

When making that ask, be polite, be firm, and be flexible.

Know your relationship with your employer: if you’ve done good work for the organization and they’ve generally been open to your suggestions and critiques, then you can have an open and frank conversation about your compensation.

But don’t be the intern who doesn’t do work and then asks for more money. Just like asking for a raise at a full-time or part-time job, you need to earn it.

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