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Are internships really worth it? I've asked myself this question several times throughout my life, especially in college. Though I never had an internship, I know plenty of people who have had one. Which has spurred a debate in our office: Is learning from books just as good, better, or worse than learning by doing?

To answer this question once and for all, I've enlisted the help of some knowledge-hungry friends. This group of complete novices will be separated into two competing teams and will be given different subjects that have never studied to focus on. Representing Team Books will be Emily, Clark, and Liz. They'll be matched up against Jana, Casey, and Anthony of Team Experiential. Those on Team Books will be given a textbook from which they'll derive all their knowledge, whereas Team Experiential will be guided by an expert in the field. After doing their individual training, each person will be asked to complete the same task in order to show off what they've learned.

Liz (Team Books, left) has "decorated" only two cakes in her life, and that entailed dumping candy on one of them. Anthony (Team Experiential, right) used to bake a lot of store-bought stuff like cakes, brownies, cookies, but that's it.

First up, we have Liz (Team Books) reading The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum and The Contemporary Buttercream Bible by Valeri Valeriano and Christina Ong. She will focus on the chapters that detail piping textures, patterns, and flowers.

Anthony (Team Experiential), on the other hand, will be taken under the wing of Lisa Mansour. Mansour is an award-winning expert in cake decoration and the co-founder and co-owner of NY Cake & Baking Supply. In addition to managing her business, which includes retail, online, and wholesale components, she is also head of NY Cake Academy, where she frequently teaches classes and provides content for instructional videos.


  • Time limit: 1 hour from completion of training
  • Incorporate numerous piping techniques

  • Add at least 1 buttercream piping border

  • Add at least 1 buttercream flower

What was the advantage of your particular learning method?

Liz: The advantage is that I can learn fast but at my own pace through visual cues (pictures are my friends!), but the minute there are steps and instructions involved, I black out. I just don't like books telling me what to do.

Anthony: One advantage of learning directly from Lisa is seeing exactly how it's done and being able to mess up and redo a skill.

What pieces of knowledge did you take away from this learning experience?

Liz: I learned that overcompensation goes a long way. I had to make up for my lack of technique, knowledge, and mentor with an idea I could enjoy, and Frida Kahlo never fails me. Now I know I can decorate a Frida Kahlo cake and eat it too.

Anthony: I learned that everything on this planet is not as simple as it seems. Life is complicated, but I had so much fun and feel like I have a new trick up my sleeve. I have much more respect for cake decorators — it's not just "decorating."

WINNER: Anthony (Team Experiential)

He incorporated four more piping techniques than Liz, and his borders and lines were also much cleaner (but we love Frida, too!).

Check out the amazing culinary work JWU students have created with their hands on experience here.

Emily (Team Books, left) has little to no skills when it comes to animation. Jana's (Team Experiential, right) level of expertise in animation is basically zilch.

Next up, Emily (Team Books) will be taking a deep dive into After Effects Apprentice by Trish & Chris Meyer. She'll be getting acquainted with lesson one (basic animation) and two (advanced animation), which will be covering topics that include keyframes, anchor points, and motion control.

Jana (Team Experiential) will be taking notes from BuzzFeed animator Tyler Naugle. Naugle started drawing at the age of 4 and hasn't stopped since. He graduated with a BFA from the Maryland Institute of Art in 2011, where he majored in animation and concentrated in film and video.


  • Time limit: 2 hours from completion of training
  • Coordinate timing of bounces
  • Manipulate the ball when it hits the ground
  • Interact with some element of the environment

Emily (left) required the entire two hours to produce the animation. Jana (right) turned in her bouncing ball after 45 minutes.

How would you describe your learning method?

Emily: When it comes to reading straight out of a book, I like to mark up the text and go back through afterward to write down organized notes. I could go at my own pace and constantly flip back through the material if unsure about certain steps.

Jana: I like to write things down. I'm a huge note-taker, and when it comes to things I don't understand much (waddup, math), I like to list things out step by step by tiny step. I'm planning to take as many notes as my little hands will allow while I go through this training.

What pieces of knowledge did you take away from this learning experience?

Emily: My major takeaway from this experiment was that my usual approach to learning (taking notes and applying them) doesn't work in every situation. In this case, I was in a time crunch and had to prioritize messing around in the program as I read along over taking copious notes and trying to decipher them later.

Jana: I feel more confident about approaching things I'm sure I'm bad at. I went into this worried I would embarrass myself and have to bow out with some kind of graceful excuse like "My fingers are gone!" Instead, I was able to take what Tyler told me and actually apply it. I learned to trust that if I have expert guidance, I can get a lot better at something, even if it's not in an area where I'm usually strong.

What are your final thoughts and feelings for the whole experiment?

Emily: I spent nearly 20 minutes clicking around frantically looking for an icon that was supposed to be in a certain area before I could move on to the next step. A simple “Hey, here’s where it is” from someone who knows the program would have saved me so much time.

Jana: I'm really glad I participated in this! Tyler got me to understand the way the program works in a way I never could have managed by reading tutorials. I feel lucky to have gotten some expert instruction and to have these new skills. Also, I feel very, very proud of my bouncing ball and look forward to the coming accolades.

WINNER: Jana (Team Experiential) by a slim margin

Emily's timing > Jana's timing. Emily's ball manipulation < Jana's ball manipulation. Emily's environment interaction = Jana's environment interaction. Jana took an hour and 15 minutes less to complete.

Clark (Team Books, left) would "fix" the family VCR by unplugging it and plugging it back in but now wouldn't dare try to fix any modern electronics. Casey's (Team Experiential, right) level of expertise in electronics hovers steadily around a zero.

Last but not least, Clark (Team Books) will be taking notes from chapter two (DC Circuits) in Intro to Basic Electricity and Electronics Technology by Earl Gates. He'll brief himself in topics such as current, voltage, resistance, and series and parallel circuits.

Casey (Team Experiential) will be mentored by Matthew Terracciano. Terracciano is a 28-year-old graduate of the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, where he received a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degree in electrical engineering. Since then, he has pursued work in the field of power transmission cable ampacity and published work on the topic in various IEEE scientific journals. He currently works as an electrical engineer for ARUP, a consulting engineering firm that provides engineering, design, planning, project management, and consulting services for some of the world’s most iconic architectural, engineering, infrastructure, and planning projects.


  • Time limit: 1 hour from completion of training
  • Circuit needs to be fully functional without burning out any components or short circuits
  • Connect as many electrical components as possible — points will be awarded for each item: red and yellow LEDs = 1 point, blue and green LEDs = 2 points, white LEDs = 3 points, buzzers = 4 points, and spinning toy = 7 points
  • 1 portion of the circuit has to be wired in series
  • 1 portion of the circuit has to be wired in parallel

Clark (left) used the entire hour to complete the task, where 30 minutes were dedicated to playing around with the equipment. Casey (right) needed only half an hour to successfully wire her circuit.

How competent did you feel leading up to doing the task on your own?

Clark: Well, the base component of creating electrical circuits is called a breadboard. I thought that was called charcuterie. So I had that going for me...

Casey: I felt...OK. I tried my best to follow along with Matt's instructions. Still, it was a lot to get through. But I understood a few key parts, and he was a great teacher. Luckily, I got the gist of it!

Clark (left) connected three LEDs (two green, one yellow), one buzzer, and one toy in series for a total of 16 points.

Casey (right) got 27 LEDs (five yellow, four green, five blue, 10 red, four white) in parallel, which was then put into series with two toys and one buzzer for a total of 63 points.

What pieces of knowledge did you take away from this learning experience?

Clark: While it was good for me to know Ohm's Law and see how the different resistors affected the overall flow of current through the breadboard, it only confused me more. If I saw practically how those pieces plugged into the board, decreased or increased current, and allowed for electricity to power each item, I wouldn't have struggled so much. I was caught up in the equations instead of the practical application, which made me suffer.

Casey: Why don't you ask me what a parallel circuit is and how it's different from a series circuit? 'Cause I can tell you!

What are your final thoughts and feelings for the whole experiment?

Clark: I love reading books for fun; I hate learning how to do things via books though. Instruction manuals piss me off, and I like to figure things out through trial and error. I'm glad I write for a living and don't make electrical circuits. Powering each item individually was chill. Powering 20 items led to a very fast burnout — not chill. Getting your hands into an experience is so much better than reading about it.

Casey: I'm a visual learner and need to be interactive. The advantage of hands-on learning is that you can learn about the method of whatever it is you're studying, then immediately apply it to the real world. That's the trick for me: I need to understand how a lesson will apply before my brain will fully catch on. I have a newfound appreciation for electricians, electrical engineers, and anyone who's ever taken an advanced math class. Bless you! My liberal-arts brain can't thank you enough.

WINNER: Casey (Team Experiential)

She successfully completed parallel and series circuits, connecting components that added up to 63 points.

With a commanding 3–0 performance, Team Experiential outperformed Team Books. Collectively, Anthony, Jana, and Casey seemed to have gotten a better understanding of how to apply what they learned while being technically sound. And as a group, they saved so much more time compared to the others.

Team Books seemed to struggle getting acquainted with their tools. They spent a large amount of their time trying to answer questions like: What does this do? Where is this button? How do I use this? Despite this setback, Liz, Emily, and Clark still possessed the inherent knowledge needed for each of the tasks. Each one of them made the best of their situation and even expressed future interests to further explore their areas of study.

After this fun little competition, I admit I kinda wished I had taken full advantage of the internships I had available to me in college. After seeing how much easier it was for Team Experiential, I'd highly recommend everyone be open to supplementing their by-the-books education with an internship. As evidenced here, it can completely change the way you learn.

Johnson & Wales University offers their students hands-on work experience at over 1,900 sites every year.

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Photos by Lauren Zaser & illustrations by Laura Hoerner © BuzzFeed

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