universities (local) ?The real-life work experience of an internship gives you a head start once you graduate A university or college education is just the first step in preparing for a career. Fresh graduates usually benefit if they can offer something extra to prospective employers. That is where an internship comes in. An internship is an employment opportunity where a student works, sometimes for free, to gain hands-on experience. Internships offer valuable work experience, help to develop marketable skills and bolster a resume. Best of all, they often help to get you a full- or part-time job before or after graduation. Vicky Zheng, who graduated from Hong Kong Polytechnic University as the 2004 top design student, was offered a full-time position at the Hong Kong design and architectural company where she spent two months working as an intern. Ms Zheng studied at the prestigious Shanghai Tong Ji University before winning a Hong Kong Jockey Club scholarship and moving to Hong Kong to study urban environmental development at PolyU's Design School. She also joined an exchange programme with the Design School at Birmingham University in Britain, which gave her the opportunity to travel around Europe and visit Britain's main cities. The past four years have been a roller-coaster ride of study, travel, hard work and, ultimately, success for a star student who plans to become an architect. Back in Hong Kong, Ms Zheng secured an internship with Atelier Pacific, a multi-disciplinary architectural design studio based in Hong Kong with affiliate offices in Shanghai, London and Melbourne. Now that her internship is complete, the firm has offered her a job as an interior designer. 'I don't consider myself a star student but simply someone who works hard to achieve the goals I set for myself,' Ms Zheng said. Stringent time management was crucial for successful study, while group projects involving students from various disciplines and departments offered challenges and rewards. One group project, a design for a futuristic cafe, was posted on an architectural website. Ms Zheng said studying in Hong Kong was more intense than in Shanghai or Britain. She also said her time at Atelier Pacific had taught her a great deal about accepting responsibility. She had looked after modules of clients' projects and helped with sourcing and procurement. 'These are the real-life experiences university prepares you for, so there is a sense of real satisfaction when you see your efforts taking shape in the workplace,' Ms Zheng said. Emily Tang, who is about to begin the final year of a four-year journalism degree at the Shue Yan College, said her summer internship with the South China Morning Post had given her knowledge and experience. 'I now have some valuable experience to include in my CV when I leave university,' she said. The Shue Yan College aims to prepare well-trained, qualified graduates to work for newspapers and mass media organisations in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Ms Tang said working with professional journalists had given her hands-on experience of how an idea developed into a newspaper story or feature. She was also able to put her theoretical skills into practice by conducting telephone and face-to-face interviews with representatives of various organisations including the Hong Kong Management Association and the Hong Kong Jewellery Fair. One interview was published in the special features section of the South China Morning Post and carried Ms Tang's byline. 'I decided I would like to spend my internship in English-language media to improve my English-writing skills and develop knowledge in an area that is less familiar.' Ms Tang said her college studies mainly focused on reading and writing in Chinese, while her internship allowed her to see the important role journalism played in society.