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Being a Kluge Intern during an International Pandemic

This is a guest post by Leslie Hoag, a senior at State University of New York Brockport, as well as an intern at the Kluge Center working on a digital humanities project using the ArcGIS Story Maps platform. 

This was supposed to be my first full summer where I did not return home to Buffalo, New York. I was accepted into a 6-credit program where I would live in Washington, D.C., work at a full time internship, and take a class as well. I planned out my housing and had applied to over 20 internships in the D.C. area. I looked forward to being able to live and study outside of New York and intern at an institution that would allow me to take the first steps towards my goal of working on projects preserving historic memory in the United States.

At the end of March, I started to receive emails about programs cancelling their internships due to COVID-19. Fortunately, my internship program helped me find an internship in the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. After an interview with Michael Stratmoen, Program Specialist at the center, I was hired as an intern at one of the country’s greatest cultural institutions. The Kluge Center itself is a powerhouse that invites scholars from all over the world to inform the public and Congress. I felt extremely lucky to even have an internship during the pandemic, let alone one that has helped me immensely in planning what I will do moving forward.

Photo: John Elsbree

I am working on a project using ArcGIS Story Maps to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Kluge Center. The story highlights researchers who have been in residence at the Kluge Center, top thinkers in the social sciences and humanities who have won the Kluge Prize, and features an interactive map depicting over 50 scholars from around the world and the research projects that they have worked while in residence.

That’s not to say that being a remote intern is easy. From spending half of the spring semester learning online, and then from this remote internship, I learned that it is not easy to work while at home, with my laptop as the only connection to the office and my colleagues. Because of this, I thought I would share some tips to future virtual interns and the most important things I have learned so far:

  1. Create a separation between work time and non-work time. For example, if I don’t make my bed or put on daytime clothes, the day will not be productive. That slight difference changes how I view what I am doing and raises the stakes enough that I am motivated to get started. This also helps me resist the constant call of my bed to come back for a nap.
  2. Don’t wait for motivation to strike. I am the student who will power through a week’s worth of work in 2 days because I suddenly feel productive. But in my current situation of only working at my laptop in my childhood bedroom, motivation will not come naturally. I have to force it and be proud of whatever I can do. And this is not easy compared with college life, where you can separate your home visits from work.
  3. Be nice to yourself. It is so easy to beat yourself up for not being as productive as you planned, or for being too distracted at any given point. These are not normal circumstances. If I was in Washington, D.C., working in the Thomas Jefferson Building, this would not be an issue. But as I sit at my new desk staring at the wall color I chose when I was 15 years old, it’s a bit harder to justify where I am in life. Working for the Library of Congress is an incredible opportunity, but that can’t always outweigh the struggle that comes with this difficult situation.

While I have not met any of the individuals I am working closely with in person, I can only hope that my true self comes through over email or video chat, and that is all they can hope for as well. Professional development courses have not prepared us for a full-time online etiquette and what an online first impression feels like. So, I hope that my struggles can help someone else seeking virtual internships, as we move forward in the pandemic and stare down the warnings of a second wave. I am thankful for the opportunity to continue to work at the Kluge Center and I have been so happy with my experience and the things I have learned.

One Comment

  1. Kit Arrington
    July 15, 2020 at 3:01 pm

    What a wonderful piece that both shares the excitement of an internship at the Kluge Center along with the reality of being a college student working from their childhood home. (My college age daughters repainted their rooms last week!) Thank you for the humor that you shared offering tips and lessons learned.

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