Off the beat: What is … worth it?

Last year around this time I wrote a column detailing my disheartening attempts to attain a meaningful, paid internship for the summer.

I turned to what seemed like a ridiculous and illogical alternative to earn a bit of spare change — stuffing facts such as “Who is the inventor of frozen food?” and “Who is the running back with the biggest margin of victory in Heisman trophy voting history?” in preparation to earn a bid to Jeopardy!, America’s favorite quiz show (the answers: Clarence Birdseye and O.J. Simpson, respectively).

I took the online test — the first step to making it onto the show — in the spring, moved on to have a blast of a summer, and then spent the past fall semester in Washington, D.C., having another blast but working at what I had vowed to avoid: an unpaid internship.

Since then, two things have occurred: I have renewed my oath to never again work unpaid, and I’ve received a callback to the second round of auditions for Jeopardy! As you can tell, one of these things is far more exciting than the other. Yep you guessed it — my oath was done in blood, thereby making it irrevocable.

As for my callback to Jeopardy!, I nearly suffered the fate of Tycho Brahe — a burst bladder — when I found out I would be moving on to the next round (lesson learned: go to the “loo”, or as the Aussies say, “dunny”, before you check your email for quiz show news).

You’re probably thinking that my immediate reaction was to cram my brain with as much trivia as possible or come up with cutesy things I could talk to Alex Trebek about after the first commercial break. What I was really thinking was “Why did I spend all those hours slaving away at my internship when I could have been memorizing facts such as “Rene Descartes had a fetish for cross-eyed women” instead?”

Something I’ve come to realize this past semester is that we college students are far too apoplectic when it comes to finding internships and resume boosters. We stress, we worry, we sweat … for what, really?

My internship in D.C. consisted of doing basic, non-intellectually stimulating tasks for a solid 36 hours a week. As I went through what seemed like eons of work for no compensation, I realized that not only was I wasting my time, but I was also intellectually regressing. As students, we must be constantly striving to learn more, better our abilities or improve our skills. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves stagnating as the rest of the world speeds past.

I understand this may not apply to everyone. One of my engineering friends recently asked how my internship in D.C. was and I told her how it sucks to be unpaid, to which she replied, “Wait, aren’t all internships paid, though? I always get paid A LOT for the work I do.” I cried.

I know, internships are important stepping stones to employment down the line, and if you’re able to find something worthwhile, go for it. But if you find yourself facing a situation where you’re going to be earning zero dollars, you’ll be doing nothing but grunt work, you’ll be forced to fetch coffee regularly, I tell you this — it’s just not worth it (speaking of which, did you know that George Washington was the inventor of instant coffee? Not the GW that we know as an American hero, but a Belgian by the same name, living in Guatemala in 1906).

Study abroad, try something new, or get outside your comfort zone; perfect your craft, whatever it may be, so that when opportunities do arise, you will crush them like an elephant jumping on ants. Psyche! Elephants can’t jump.

Whatever you do though, remember this: you are worth being paid for your services. You go to UC Berkeley, for God’s sake. Don’t give up your talents, your brain, your skills and your time for nothing in return, unless it’s Jon Stewart asking for them. You are not worth nothing. So don’t let employers avoid this fundamental truth by offering you “academic credit” instead.

Or you can try out for Jeopardy! There is a 0.01 percent chance that I move on, but I know that regardless of if I make the show, I will not spend this spring semester losing sleep over whether this or that company calls me back. If they do, great. If they don’t, they can … well, they can go hang out in Death Valley, the hottest place on Earth with record temperatures of 134 degrees.

As of right now, I’m far more concerned with what the small plastic tag at the end of a shoelace is called.

Ah yes, that’d be “What is an aglet?”

Contact Lynn Yu at [email protected]