This past summer I was a graduate collections intern in the library/archive of the Witte Museum in San Antonio, Texas. It was not my first internship but it was probably my best. I got a lot of hands-on work experience, I was able to observe the everyday functions of a real workplace in my field, and I received great feedback from some awesome professionals who have helped me further my understanding of what I want to do when I grow up and/or graduate.
I know that an internship can seem intimidating when all you have is a vague notion of what one involves, a few horror stories from folks who have done them, and a bunch of paperwork with deadlines. Figuring out where you want to put your blood, sweat, and tears for a good chunk of time (and probably without pay) can be stressful. But I promise that the hoop-jumping can be worth it, especially if you actually (at least kind of) know what you’re doing when you’re heading into it. Here’s a few things that I’ve learned about internships:
1. Know what you’re looking for before you apply. What do you want to learn through this internship? Is it experience with a particular skill set, or working in a certain kind of place? Are you only going to look in the area where you live, or are you willing to intern somewhere else? (Some internships come with lodging, others are conveniently located near good friends or family with a spare room/couch). Do you want to do a little bit of everything, or focus in on particular tasks? Whatever you want, there’s an internship for that.
2. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb. The Witte (where I worked this past summer) doesn’t actually publish information regarding internships, so my application started with me taking the first step (and a really deep breath) and asking. If there’s an institution which you would love to work in, go ahead and see if you can get some experience volunteering or interning there.
3. Look before you leap. Do your research, because you can potentially end up in a bad work environment if you sign an internship contract without knowing much about your host organization. Visit the institution, look into their organizational goals, observe how staff members interact with each other, familiarize yourself. Know what you’re getting into before you sign on the dotted line.
4. Be passionate. Internships are not for the faint of heart; they can involve long hours, large amounts of menial labor, and living on a combination of sheer enthusiasm and pixie dust. Before you invest yourself make sure it’s for something you care about, not just trying to add another line on your resume.
5. Have fun. This may seem like the opposite of everything I’ve said thus far, but it’s not. Internships are about rolling up your sleeves and getting some life experience in your field of choice. Even when there are challenges, you can still end up learning a lot. And those bumps in the road are part of what make the adventure interesting. (Plus there’s always the regular fun stuff, like exploring new places, meeting new people, getting to be a shameless tourist, eating fresh TexMex…)
Get outside of the classroom and your comfort zone, try new things, do stuff. And then tell me all about it, because I love swapping stories. (Speaking of stories, if you want to read more about my recent internship adventures check out my blog: http://bit.ly/1LqUwXS)