The term “internship” is widely used to describe work/learning experiences in a given field of study. Therefore, there is ambiguity around how it is defined in different settings. Internships can be associated with courses, on-campus offices, off-campus businesses/companies, trips abroad, and even summer jobs. For ease, internships are commonly classified into two categories: Academic (Credit) Internships and Non-Academic (Non-Credit) Internships.
The key difference between an internship program and other types of internship experiences is that internship programs are supervised by faculty members.
Many internship experiences can count for credit as determined by university departments. Academic internships are where participating students have the opportunity to earn university course credit during/after the completion of the experience. For example, education students at Southern must successfully complete student teaching (an academic internship where students evaluated while teaching real public school classes) in order to graduate. Many programs at Southern require students to complete an internship as their “capstone” or culminating educational experience at the university. Other examples include the journalism, communications, and art internship courses. In academic internships, students are gaining experience and knowledge that is separate from their coursework. The purpose of these internships is to provide students with unique learning experiences that will prepare them for their future careers, not to benefit a specific company or enterprise.
Non-Credit Work experiences
These internships are generally pursued by the student independently for the purpose of expanding their education beyond the classroom and gain experiences useful to their future careers. By way of networking, researching, and checking internship openings on university sites, students are able to secure valuable internships that positively impact their future work. Many of these internships are treated as a job, where the organization sets the expectations independent of any university involvement. These internships may be paid or unpaid, but provide students with experience in the field. These internships may also take place on-campus or through certain university departments; these, however, do not count for credit.
Paid Internships vs. Non-Paid Internships
Some internships offer financial compensation in addition to the work/learning experience. The compensation is commonly made in the same manner as an hourly working wage or in lump-sum payments. The organization may or may not consider students as employees, this might influence the types of expectations the organization will have. Although paid internships carry the added benefit of money, non-paid internships can be just as valuable in the long-run. For example, many students who complete non-paid internships are later hired full-time by the same organization. In either case, quality internship experiences are quite valuable, regardless of compensation.
Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU)
The Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program supports active research participation by undergraduate students in any of the areas of research funded by the National Science Foundation. REU projects involve students in meaningful ways in ongoing research programs or in research projects specifically designed for the REU program. This solicitation features two mechanisms for support of student research: (1) REU Sites are based on independent proposals to initiate and conduct projects that engage a number of students in research. REU Sites may be based in a single discipline or academic department or may offer interdisciplinary or multi-department research opportunities with a coherent intellectual theme. (2) REU Supplements may be included as a component of proposals for new or renewal NSF grants or cooperative agreements or may be requested for ongoing NSF-funded research projects.
Undergraduate student participants in either REU Sites or REU Supplements must be U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, or permanent residents of the United States. Students do not apply to NSF to participate in REU activities. Students apply directly to REU Sites or to NSF-funded investigators who receive REU Supplements. To identify appropriate REU Sites, students should consult the directory of active REU Sites on the Web.