An internship during the coronavirus pandemic is a crash course in adaptability

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Clarissa Garcia began her internship before COVID-19 hit. Her job at WishSlate Inc., an e-commerce app, was focused on PR and media relations. Unsurprisingly, her tasks quickly rendered incredibly difficult due to the immense focus that the media is having on the virus.

“It’s been pretty frustrating for me,” she considers. “I’ve had no success so far”. But while difficult, this unique situation is giving her an unexpected insight in navigating a start-up during a crisis. Tuning into weekly Skype meetings with the company’s CEO has kept her well informed as to how the company is navigating everything. “I find it helpful, and it keeps me and the rest of the interns engaged,” she says.

Interns like Garcia are used to work hard to prove themselves in temporary positions, but doing that remotely—and in the middle of a global health crisis—definitely add to the challenge. Some of the high schoolers, higher education students, and those who are in full-time, post graduation internships during the school year are lucky enough to make the remote transition. Others are even more fortunate, with their employers offering full-time positions upon graduation. But many are completely left without the experience—and sometimes money—they counted on having.

Laina Milazzo, a second year law student at Touro Law Center, was working as a legal extern at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office in Massachussetts, in the district court bureau. Once COVID-19 hit, all externs were told not to return until further notice. The next day, the courts closed indefinitely. “Since it was an externship we get credit for, they needed to find somewhere for us in order to actually receive credit for all the work we had already done,” says Milazzo. 

She was reassigned to the appeals bureau, which allowed her to do research assignments from home. And she’s adapted: “The research is so different from the work I was doing in the district court bureau,” she says. “But now I have hands-on experience in two totally different bureaus—and I think overall it’ll help my career.” 

Some of the students in Milazzo’s class weren’t able to switch to another department. Although they won’t substitute the hands-on experience of an actual internship, their professor is creating new assignments for them to do in order to still gain knowledge and receive credit for the time they put in already.

Zaria Wilson faced a similar disappointment. A graduating high school senior, she’s been interning at the National Institutes of Health in the Department of Cellular Development and Neurobiology since last June. With her work taking place completely within a lab, the internship had no way to translate to remote work. Plus, her schedule was tied to her Maryland-based school, so the day it shut down, the internship ended.

While Wilson is fortunate to have interned since June, she’s being proactive to make up for the last few months at the lab that she’s losing. “I’ve been doing my best to make up for the last months of the internship by doing some online courses and staying aware of the science field and biology.”

However optimistic, adapting may seem too far-fetched for some. Wilson is worried about how losing her internship stipend will affect her paying for college. While keeping up with her reading and online courses, she’s applying for scholarships. And Sammy, who had graduated from high school last June, wouldn’t be starting college until the fall.

He had been working as an intern in an investing firm in New York City for less than a month when his office was suddenly shut down due to COVID.19. Since then, Sammy hasn’t worked for them, or for anyone else, for that matter.

“I know that people like me (interns) are going to be amongst the last to be hired back,” he fears. “I hope that my school will be well equipped to deal with helping us find opportunities. There aren’t really many for me to pursue right now.”

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More must-read careers coverage from Fortune:

—How Fortune 500 companies are stepping up during the pandemic
—3 ways to put your best foot forward on a video job interview
Everything you need to know about furloughs—and what they mean for workers
—The coronavirus could change how freelancers work in the long term
—Accenture and Verizon work to help furloughed or laid-off workers find new jobs
—WATCH: 401(k) withdrawal penalties waived for anyone hurt by COVID-19

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