Unpaid Internships – Position Stand


Dear Reader,

I decided to write this position statement to give ‘my side’ of the story, which I hope will ease some of the concerns that people have. More than this though, I hope it will give some perspective to ‘those with opinions’ so that they don’t end up ‘cutting the industries nose off to spite it’s face’ as it were. I’ll make it clear what I mean by that later on.

The crux of the situation is, we receive (literally) hundreds of emails asking us to provide work experience opportunities and therefore the internships are one way of us doing this, a free way, rather than our paid Mentorships. To recap on what our internship programmes are: we are offering a part-time internship to an individual with zero experience, who wants to be supported and mentored daily within the working environment, providing invaluable experiences and unique insights into working with a wide range of individuals. The internships are for a minimum period of 6-9months but tend to be open ended for good reason.

When putting these positions together I consulted multiple academics/practitioners, some of whom are outspoken about exploitation through unpaid internships. I wanted to understand their concerns to see if there were situations where unpaid internships were acceptable. Interestingly, they all said yes but with a number of provisos that I have adapted into all of the internship specifications. I will outline these below:

Part-time: This is a common factor that everyone I consulted mentioned. It must not be full-time. Therefore we offer positions that are a minimum of 3 days/24hours a week, with flexible hours to fit around a paid job. Internships are give and take, through experience, 1-2 days a week is simply not enough to make the internship worthwhile/beneficial for either party.

Zero experience: If someone has experience and they can demonstrate proficiency, they deserve to be paid. In this case, they could apply for one of our paid positions. We would never expect someone to have over a years experience to have to work for free. That is exploitation.

Daily mentoring: A big criticism of many internships is that the internship is for a ‘lead’ role i.e. head of sports science, unpaid. Becoming a Mac-Nutrition intern means you get support and mentoring from all of our practitioners and I make a lot of time myself to give away as much of my knowledge as I can.

Invaluable experiences: This is not a washing/carrying water bottles type internship. It is a structured, supported, fun and unique position that will give you knowledge and experience you can gain almost no-where else. Due to the unique nature of the work that Mac-Nutrition does you will get exposure to a huge variety of individuals from different walks of life and sporting backgrounds.

Open ended: This is the most unique part of the internships we offer. Due to them being SO intensive I honestly believe we are creating some of the best practitioners in the UK… therefore, why wouldn’t I want to employ them? Once the initial internship period is over, we almost always offer them a paid position whether that be part or full time. I don’t know of many internships where the employer’s primary goal is to be able to create a role for you in the organisation! 

There you have it, an ethically grounded unpaid internship. You will also notice this is not shadowing, or a measly week placement, because quite frankly, they are a waste of time. The industry has created this false sense of ‘building your CV’ with experience that is of little benefit to anyone. ‘Experience’ should make you a demonstrably better practitioner and likewise should expose you to people that will see that first hand, NOT just written on your CV, that is how experience works.

So that is the why I’m happy to offer this unpaid internship and feel doing so is ethical. Now I want to tackle a few other points from a very personal perspective to try to help people understand what their actions might lead to.

If people push too hard on the ‘banning’ of unpaid internships there is a simple fact… there will be fewer internships. Of course there will be less exploitation, there may even be 1 or 2 more paid internships but on the whole there will be less opportunities for people to break into the industry. In criticism of our internships, someone said:

“If someone is going to make you money, you should pay them.”

Whether or not that is true, the fact is that interns do NOT make me money. This is where people forget to engage their brain and look at what is being offered. I have personally criticised many unpaid positions being offered by institutes of sport and professional sports clubs because they command huge sums of money that could easily pay an intern the NMW. Similarly, they get manpower, which for organisations such as theirs directly benefits their income generating power. However, in a tiny* business like Mac-Nutrition, the flow of benefit is massively in favour of the intern.

When contacting the academics and professionals about the positions here were some of the comments:

“The problem with the perception of internships is some professional organisations take the **** with it and add to that the sense of entitlement that students develop – i.e. ‘I have a degree therefore I’m worth something to you’ or  ‘I’ll be making you money’ when in reality you’ll be investing your time mentoring them to make them either self-employable or employable.”

“We provide postgrad opportunities for folk that have to self fund and as I said this runs up an additional debt of £10K on average for the student. To me, a few months interning is nothing compared to 1 year slogging for me in our labs at a cost of £10k with no promises of employment or funding for additional postgrad work.”

“I think an internship in a company like yours would be a great way to build a network and progress their career as a nutritionist. You’ll understand better than most that getting a degree(s) is somewhat like learning to drive i.e. you really only learn real world driving when you pass your test and start doing it and unpaid internships are a great way to achieve the experience required for employment.”

“My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that there are times when an unpaid intern is 100% in favour of the intern and beneficial. These are usually reasonably short term (up to 6months), they are receiving expert training by someone reputable and suitably qualified and they receive invaluable experience. I think clearly you fit this latter category. The issues I have is the unpaid internships with major sports teams who provide no training / little training and basically want bottle washers but are not willing to pay.”

“I share many of Dr. X’s views (academic in above quote) to be honest, but I do also recognise that there is value added to an individuals CV from an internship provided that it a) isn’t too long, b) isn’t full-time and c) gives them something that can improve their chances of future employment!”

As you can see, I’ve sought council from people who are publicly talking about unpaid internships and they are very complimentary of what we are doing as we have adapted what we offer to make it ‘in favour of the intern’ in a way that they agree with. A position such as the ones we are offering could be deemed as a unicorn internship if they are paid. If positions are paid and advertised as internships, my guess is, the person who gets it will a) have experience, b) not be mentored intensively c) will only be given minimal hours & only when there is profitable work there. Guess what… that’s called a 0-hour contract job, not an internship.

I personally want to give back to the industry & give opportunities that weren’t available to me. Nutrition is a passion for me, not just a job and that’s why I do many of the things I do. Mac-Nutrition is an ethically run company not only in the information we put out but we use our time and expertise to help charitable cases as well as giving generously financially. It’s why I voraciously call out bad practice despite it alienating me from the ‘in’ crowds. It’s why I turn down multiple opportunities to preserve my integrity, which is far more of a detriment to my career than a benefit. Its also why I take hours to write a position statement such as this despite already having more great applicants than we even have time to interview. It’s why EVERY single applicant gets a personalised email with feedback on why they weren’t successful at any given stage of the process. If myopic individuals who do very little to give back to the industry want to criticise me or Mac-Nutrition, then so be it, I would just ask that all of you who support the way in which I run Mac-Nutrition would show your support publicly, as many of you already do.

Thank you for reading and I hope it has been helpful/thought provoking,

Kindest regards,

Martin MacDonald (Mac-Nutrition Founder)


*A tiny business

Mac-Nutrition used to be just me, I have single handily built it up to what it is today by working long, hard hours, often for nothing, to create an income. The Mentorship programmes are designed to educate people to do what I did; trust me, the internship is a way better option but unfortunately, they are few and far between. Please also remember that every single person I employ in a paid capacity comes directly out of my ‘wage’ and every penny Mac-Nutrition earns, we have worked hard to create the opportunity; we don’t have it handed to us on a plate, regardless of performance, like many institutes do. You know how hard it is to get a job or an internship? It’s not all song and dance as an ethical employer either, and having integrity makes the pay suck.