In July 2022, I started my first internship as a part-time engineer working at Halter (an agri-tech company based in Auckland CBD) and later transitioned to full-time in November for the summer period. Having done both part-time and full-time now, I’m here to share some of my insights into the similarities and differences between the two in an internship, as well as some general tips for anyone starting (or thinking of starting) internships soon!

Part-time Internships

Since I started with part-time work rather than full-time, it took me a while to really get to know the people around me, both within and outside of my team. I wasn’t given particularly large projects to work on until a couple months into my internship since my company moved rather fast, making it difficult for a part-time intern to work on anything significant in the timeframe they required. However, I still got to participate in fun activities with my team and the wider company, and my work was recognised by my team while I was out of office. These points all helped me feel more valued as a team member, even if I wasn’t in the office every day.

I really enjoyed the flexibility that part-time offered me — I worked two days a week and could choose which days I came into the office, and could also work remotely if needed — and this flexibility was essential when it came to balancing work on top of university and clubs. That being said, there’s a trade-off: if you want to get more integrated with the company and really have an impact while working part-time, you may find yourself working outside of normal hours, making it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I definitely found myself doing this towards the end of my part-time work as I was assigned a larger project to work on. I took time off to focus on exams, but still found myself doing work after-hours.

Full-time Internships

Most summer internships between November and February, including mine, will be full-time (40 hours a week, roughly 8 hours a day, Monday-Friday, typical 9-to-5 lifestyle, etc. etc.). The experience really allows you to immerse yourself in your role and understand how it fits into the context of what the company does. Since I had worked part-time already, I also had gained the trust of my team members and was able to confidently take on more work now that I was in the office every day. Maintaining a work-life balance has also been way easier with full-time, since I limit almost all my work to when I’m physically in the office unless absolutely necessary. Being in the office at the same times as everyone else also helps you get to know people within and outside of your team much better than being in part-time. The only significant downside I’ve found so far is having all my free time limited to after 5pm (and grocery shopping, cooking, exercising and doing summer school eats up that time very quickly!). However, there are some tips you can try to help you thrive while working a 9-to-5 (rhyming unintended) — keep reading below to find out!

Overall, I’d say I’ve enjoyed full-time work more than part-time as it’s allowed me to become more integrated in my team and have a real impact on the company, two things I value greatly as a young intern. Still, I enjoyed the flexibility of part-time and the chance to balance work alongside other commitments during the semester, so I’d say both experiences were valuable to me in their own way!

Tips for your First Internship

If you’re thinking of starting an internship soon, here are some tips I wish I knew when I first started:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask LOTS of questions. Even people starting in higher positions will ask questions to clarify things or get context from their colleagues and managers — it’s a sign of a well-invested employee eager to take initiative! As an intern, they don’t expect you to know everything either, so don’t worry about appearing “dumb” if you don’t understand things right away — trust me, if you ask lots of questions, they’ll be happy to help and excited to see you’re interested in learning more. 
  • Set boundaries! It can be easy to fall in the trap of working overtime as an intern, but it’s important to maintain a work-life balance especially in a full-time job. Dedicate your hours in-office (or, if it’s a remote internship, set aside specific hours at home) to work, and leave yourself free time to enjoy other activities. Setting such boundaries from the start is the best way to reinforce them, both for yourself and your colleagues, for the duration of your internship. Same goes for answering emails or work-related messages: set aside time for these so you’re not doing them when you should be relaxing after work!
  • Find a mentor. Whether it’s your manager, another colleague, or even someone from a different company, find someone you connect with who is working in a similar position you’re curious about working in yourself in the future. Schedule coffee chats with them, ask them about their current work, their education and employment journey to get where they are, advice for yourself, etc. People love to talk about themselves, so if you come prepared with a list of questions to get the conversation started, most times you’ll have no trouble getting valuable information from them! And once you find someone you connect with, you can share with them your own journey as you navigate university and your first internship and hopefully get advice from them as you go.