This summer, LSA senior Zainab Bhindarwala interned at a congresswoman’s office and an advocacy-based legal nonprofit.

How did you hear about your internships?

I found both of my internships on Handshake. However, after submitting my application to the congresswoman’s office, I didn’t hear from them for a few weeks. I decided to “bump” my email in their inbox, and the internship coordinator replied to my follow-up saying he “likes my style” and wants to set up an interview. Lesson learned: If you know you want an internship, don’t be afraid to let them know you’re still interested! Finding interns isn’t every organization’s first priority, so if you don’t bug them about your application, you could lose a really great opportunity.

What made you want to apply?

I knew I wanted to have a meaningful internship experience this summer, but I didn’t want to go back to D.C. My motivation behind applying for the internship with the Congresswoman was to have a more “political” experience. I had a little bit of exposure to nonprofits already and I knew I needed to learn more about different sectors, especially since I want to be employed a year from now. My motivation for applying to the nonprofit was because I thought it was the perfect type of organization for me to work in post-graduation. I didn’t realize it when I applied, but their Michigan office is actually in my hometown and the congresswoman’s district office wasn’t too far away either, so it was easy for me to do both internships.

What are your favorite memories from your experience?

I didn’t intend on having two internships this summer – I really just wanted one. However, after accepting the position at the nonprofit, I was told they only wanted interns to come in two days a week. A couple days later I got a call from the congresswoman’s office and it seemed like fate for my top two internships to line up so perfectly. I worked three days a week at the congresswoman’s district office, and two days a week at the nonprofit. I even got a scholarship from U of M for my internship with the congresswoman, so things ended up working out pretty well.

My favorite memory from my summer internships is probably the connections I made with the other interns. This summer, the congresswoman had 14 interns! There were so many of us in the office and at times it got a little crowded, but I loved getting to know everyone and learning about what brought each of us there and where we intended to go in the future. We were all at different stages in our lives – some of us were in college, one intern was in law school and some were in high school! I loved talking to the younger interns about my college experiences, and offering a little bit of mentorship on what college is like.

What is the culture like where you interned?

The office culture at both of my internships was pretty laid-back. I expected the congresswoman’s office to be much more strict, but since it was a district office and the congresswoman was in D.C. most of the time anyway, people were pretty relaxed and interns were given plenty of time to get to know each other and collaborate on projects. It wasn’t the competitive and networking-oriented environment that I experienced in D.C., and it was a nice change.

The culture at the nonprofit was a huge surprise. It was perhaps even more laid-back than at the congresswoman’s office, and yet I was still always sitting on the edge of my seat. I realized that some of the elitist culture in social justice spaces on college campuses still remains in the workforce. The nonprofit does incredible work, and that’s what made me want to intern there in the first place, but the behind-the-scenes intern experience was a little different than what they posted on social media.

Any advice for prospective interns interested in public service?

When you’re working in an unpaid internship, it’s important to remember that while you want to maintain a professional attitude, you don’t owe the organization anything more than that. If you’re being asked to do work that’s outside of the internship that you applied for, speak up. If you are unhappy with the way you are being treated or uncomfortable with the workplace environment, bring up your concerns with your supervisor. If they aren’t responsive, then know that you don’t owe them your time. They aren’t paying you, and if interning there is doing you more harm than good, you shouldn’t feel obligated to stay.

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