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Being a Canuck, I'm a little unsure of what an intern actually does (okay, well I know what some interns do...). Is an intern just a student working for the summer, or someone who has graduated and is looking for entry-level experience?
My planning education involved a co-operative work program, where I would be placed with employers for four month workterms. It operated somewhat like the real world - we had to be interviewed, etc. And we got paid - helped with the tuition and beer money. But anyway - to answer your question, some experiences were better than others - I had workterms where I was copyboy, computer fixer-upper, and general gopher - and others where I was given a great deal of responsibility (relatively speaking). I think your experience is shaped greatly by who you work for - if your employer is interested in you as a person, or just wants somebody to use to do all the menial stuff they don't have time for.
Now that I'm the one hiring interns/students (well, at least in my two previous jobs), I definitely try to get them involved in everything - and to an extent, that is shaped by their interest. If they really want to be a planner and show some enthusiasm, they get to do some really cool stuff (cool being a relative term in the planning world). If they just sit there, they don't get so much out of it. And they learn how to use the photocopier real good.
A success story: One of my interns just got hired into the job I left. I like to think that the fact I gave her some good experience had something to do with it.
I'm avoiding the obvious intern jokes. It's no fun hitting one out of the park when the pitcher is setting them up just right.
My internship was the best pre-career decision I ever made. Well no, dropping my sociology major was, but I digress...
In my internship, I worked for FREE about 15 hours a week for a year. I worked in a department that had a full time "staff of one" like many small cities. I did all the research, grunt work, developed economic development promotional materials, and occassionally was allowed to sit in on high-level economic development call trips and meetings with business prospects. It paid off, as by the time I was nearing graduation, they expanded the staff with an entry level position, and I was able to breeze through the interview thanks to my knowledge of the community and the vacant position they were creating.
My advice on finding an internship - you'll learn more being in a small office environment, as you're expected to run the gammut of duties. Internships are all about learning the real world's expectations in spite of all that theory that you learned. If you get stuck into a "niche" internship it will be less interesting to me when your resume' crosses my desk.
I agree with bturk's comments. You'll get a lot more out of an internship, or first job, in a small agency. Unless you know for sure that you would like to spend you professional career checking site plans for parking compliance (and I hope you don't), strive to be a generalist. Get exposure to a broad range of issues, including parking plans
My internship was the best educational thing that I ever did. I learned more as an intern that I ever did in school - undergrad or grad. The key is finding a good internship where you will be exposed to real planning issues, not just filing papers and answering phones.
I hate to admit, but I had an intern last summer and I had him filing, etc.. because I just did not have the time to devote to working with him on other stuff, and we had just lost the secretary, so we really need somebody to do general office work.
It is important, when applying for internships, to find one where the staff is willing to devote time to the interns.