Things I have learned from my internship

So far into my internship at National Consumers League, I have learned valuable skills I do not get exposed to on a daily basis in the academic environment of Brandeis. My first assignment there was to get used to using Twitter as a means to connect our followers. At first I was mentally hesitant since I was not used to constantly being on social media, and it was overwhelming to handle all aspects that come with it. But gradually, I learned that social media is a very effective way to reach out to the general public.

Except for researchers or reporters, who are responsible for finding extensive and reliable sources backing their news or findings, average people find minced and succinct news to be easier to digest and more accessible. Thus I constantly have to find a way to jam the load of information into a tweet with a maximum of 140 characters. And when I don’t have to give out information in the form of tweets, I keep my comments and article brief and concise. This job not only gives me the opportunity to practice and improve my research skills, it makes me realize the most effective way to feed the general public news and information. In the future, I may not continue to work on social media or Twitter, but this has become a mentality I keep in mind whenever I write something: be succinct and be mindful of how my target audience will best absorb the information.

Weekly meeting with all the staff and interns

Another skill I have learned is interpersonal skill. When I first came to my job, there were things I believed should be done in certain ways that might not be exactly what my supervisor believed should be handled. At first, I chose to blindly follow what my supervisor wanted, although there was some frustration with having to redo the project all over. But later, I realized that it was a complete waste of my and my supervisor’s time and energy, and it could be potentially straining for our relationship. After that, I was determined to have better communication with him. Now, whenever we enter a project or assignment, we make sure to talk to each other first. We think about the approach we’d like to use, what expectation we have, who the project targets, and if there are better ways to do it. After our session, we come out with an agreed upon solution and keep on that track, so as to not waste our time and improve our relationship and trust.

I also learned that I should voice out my disagreement in these sessions in a contributory manner. It may seem scary to tell your supervisor you disagree with them, but my supervisor is a very kind and patient man who is more than happy to hear out concerns about our work. Plus, when both parties understand the expectations we have, it is easier to work with each other in the long run. Last but not least–and I can’t stress this enough–it is important to remember that asking a lot of questions does not mean you are unqualified for your job or that you don’t know what you are doing. Asking question simply means you care about your work and you want to do it properly.

My supervisor in Child Labor department

The way we work at National Consumers League

These last two weeks I have been increasingly assigned to work directly with the director of National Consumers League. As the director, she works on many issues regarding consumer’s rights and safety, ranging from hotel cancelation period, increasing regulations on table saw safety, better laws to protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, to discouraging automakers from lobbying to rollback fuel efficiency standards. To be able to work on these different issues is an great opportunity for me to better understand not only the values and the extent of work the NCL cares about, but also how the process works in a small and dedicated entity like NCL.

Among the issues that the interns have been working on, such as those mentioned above, none of them really fits into any department we have at NCL, except for Public Policy perhaps. But that department does not handle these issues. And to be honest, I have no idea what Public Policy is specifically working on right now. Instead, to have the director of the whole organization delegate these issues to interns and personally oversee the research, the report and communication process is amazing in its own way. How are the content of issue selected? It is actually a very random but up to date process. Usually, the director would find these issues in the daily news. These could be big and obvious and receive a lot of attention from the media and the public, or they could be very elusive and only appear in a column in the local newspaper. Regardless, when she assigns them to the interns, we treat them with the same standard of intensive research, expressive statements and in a very timely manner.

6 page research with more than 12 sources, all for one blog post

Many might think it is inefficient, and that she should have department heads work on these issues instead. They maybe right, but the NCL is a small organization with about twenty employees in total. So department heads may already have too many responsibilities on their hands already and may not be able to catch up with that is going on. Instead, here the interns not only get intimately within the system and are mentored by the person with the highest position in the organization but we are also working with the latest issues and are not hindered with the bureaucracy of chain of command. This way the NCL can have the resources to both deal with long-term battle like health care, child labor and other work extensive issues and have a say in sneaky matters that many may not even realize are there but have a significant impact on our lives.

Just finished a big media project raising awareness on how child labour fuels the chocolate industry

Honestly, this is a very effective strategy that I have never heard from other organizations. We are participating in on all fields when it comes to protecting consumers and people’s rights in general, which is much broader than I have imagined when I first applied to NCL. And every step we make in the process ensures that the view the NCL holds are scientifically and empirically supported, helping consumers make informed choices.


My first month at National Consumer League

I am currently working as an intern for the National Consumer League, a consumer advocacy organization, representing consumers and workers on the marketplace and workplace since 1899. The organization deals with real-life knowledge-based education for high school students (LifeSmarts program), eliminates hazardous child labor and fraud, and develops programs to help patients keep up with their medication schedules.

NCL is a small organization, with a total of around 20 employees, which makes it a perfect environment for an intern to get to know everyone, from the director, department heads, to other interns, and learn about what they are working on. NCL is accommodating to the interns’ needs and preferences to improve ourselves. We have C (for privacy purpose, I will only include their initials), who is the general supervisor of all interns. In the first week, the interns will have a one-on-one talk with her about our field of interest, what we want to improve about ourselves, and what goals we would like to achieve. Then, she lets us choose who we will be primarily assigned to. We will work with our supervisor of choice on specific field and assist them with research, blogs, and manage their social media outlet.

I chose to work with R, director of Child Labor issues. Honestly it was not a field I had much background knowledge of prior to the internship. In fact, I hardly ever thought of such matter at all. Talking to R, I realize that is the exact problem we are having with fighting child labor. It is so far removed from the supply chain that average people would never even consider the possibility of some children aged 9 or 12 doing back-breaking work to help produce things consumers use everyday. It startles me to realize virtually everything has some tint of child labor, the cotton in our clothes, the tea leaves and coffee beans in our daily beverage, the bricks in our house and everything else.

My primary work here is to manage the social media outlet of Child Labor Coalition (please follow us on Twitter if you are interested in news and facts about child labor). I respond to questions by followers, follow people who share the same interest, and post facts and news about child labor, or other related issues. It is a never ending job, in a sense of you have to keep doing it everyday. To be honest, there is no sense of accomplishing anything as every morning you wake up, you have to do it all over. It is also never ending because everyday, there is some news about child labor no matter how elusive, as long as you know where to search for them. It is mentally and emotionally draining when you think that it is the 21st century and there are still 168 million children out there participating in labor, often too hazardous and without proper protection, when they should be in school, learning and playing. It is taxing but I am also learning so much.

My goal in dealing with child labor is to think of a way to better communicate this issue and assist consumers out there to make direct, informed and conscious choice in their consumer behavior. So far I am thinking of writing a series of blogs, suggesting how consumers can notice signs of child labor and other types of modern slavery and sweatshop, which sustainable brands to buy from and which unethical ones to avoid. It is a work in progress so far. I will update in my next report.

Credit: All photos belong to NCL Facebook page

Trang Nguyen