“You Kind of Have to Bite the Bullet and do Bitch Work”: How Internships Teach Students to Unthink Exploitation in Public Relations

  • Michelle Rodino-Colocino Penn State University
  • Stephanie N. Berberick Penn State University
Keywords: bitch work, college students, consolation, compensation, feminization, gender, ideology, internships, exploitation, free labour, hope labour, precarious work, public relations


Based on critical analysis of three focus groups with PR students at Penn State, we argue that describing PR internships as “bitch work” highlights key material and ideological lessons about labour, gender, and exploitation. Analysing interviews of PR interns through Marxist and feminist perspectives, we explain the dynamics of viewing PR internships as “bitch work.” We discuss how internships come to signify good luck in a lottery-like market while also instilling a love of work and the hope that “good work” will follow “bitch work.” Such lessons, furthermore, teach interns to unthink work, our phraseology for the ideological process of viewing internships as almost-but-not-quite labour. We conclude with a call to rethink internships as work, recognize the gendered exploitation of interns, and compensate interns for their real labour.

Author Biographies

Michelle Rodino-Colocino, Penn State University

Michelle Rodino-Colocino serves as Associate Professor of Media Studies and Women’s Studies at Penn State. Her research and teaching interests focus on labour and new media from perspectives spanning critical-cultural and feminist studies. Rodino-Colocino has received awards for her research and teaching and has served on the Steering Committee of Union for Democratic Communications and as program planner for the National Communication Association’s Critical and Cultural Studies Division. Her research articles have appeared in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies; Communication, Culture & Critique; Critical Studies in Media Communications; New Media & Society; and Feminist Media Studies, among others.


Stephanie N. Berberick, Penn State University

A doctoral student in the College of Communications at Penn State, Stephanie “Stevie” Berberick conducts research and teaches in critical-cultural and feminist media studies. Berberick earned her MA from the University at Buffalo (SUNY), where she was awarded a prestigious Arthur A. Schomburg Fellowship. She has published her research in The New York Sociologist and has presented her scholarship around the US and at international conferences.

Interrogating Internships: Internships and Higher Education