This past June, I attended a conference in Edmonton that focused on Canadian labour and social movements. Although I enjoyed the conference quite a bit and was particularly intrigued with how academics, labour unions, social activists (and even a few “trouble makers”) gathered together at the same event to share research, stories, and calls to action, I didn’t blog about it earlier because it wasn’t a translation-focused event. (My talk, which was about how and why Left-leaning Canadians translated Quebec sovereignty texts into English in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, was the only one that looked at translation). Yet the conference did lead me to carefully consider (and sometimes reconsider) various social issues that are relevant to translation. If you’ve read my blog posts before, you’ll know, of course, that crowdsourcing, and the ethics of crowdsourcing in particular, is one of my research interests, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the conference had me once again pondering the effects of unpaid or underpaid labour on the translation profession. But later, as the new academic year started and I took over our various internships programs, I started to also think about ethical questions related to internships for translation students.
The problem that I wrestle with as I try to find internships is that generally, I can’t offer an internship to every student who applies for one. This is usually because although many Toronto-area translation companies have been generously taking on interns for a number of years, many smaller companies and individual translators (who make up a large portion of the translation market) find working with an intern difficult to coordinate: how, for instance, can they be sure they will have work for the intern every week? How will supervising an intern fit into their schedules, which might be full due to travel and other commitments? Since there are only so many large translation service providers who might be able to accommodate a intern or two, this leaves me having more students than internships nearly every term.
And this problem is actually more complex, because although about half of our internships are paid, the other half are not, leaving students who cannot afford to do unpaid work unable to take advantage of an opportunity to get more translation experience, and leaving me with the problem of offering paid work to some students and unpaid work to others. These kinds of challenges (unpaid internships, and internships that are not available to everyone) are not unique to translation, as this article in Canadian Lawyer demonstrates, but they are something I’ll be spending more time thinking about. I may be overestimating the interest in internships: some students are pursuing a degree in translation without intending to become translators and therefore may not be particularly interested in professional experience in the field. Others may not be concerned about unpaid work because they value the experience an internship provides. To find out more, I plan to survey our students later this year, to see what they think about internships, both paid and unpaid. My hope is that the results will help me feel more confident that the internship programs I coordinate are benefitting as many students as possible, as fairly as possible. I’ll blog more about it when I have some of the results.
In the meantime, I’d be very interested in hearing from others who run an internship program: what has your experience been with the internships? What do students think about unpaid work? Are internships mandatory, and therefore equally accessible to everyone? Do you have any ethical concerns about translation internships? If so, do you have any ideas about how to address these concerns?