Internships for Graduate Students
Lessons Learned from Career Diversity
The AHA’s Career Diversity for Historians initiative is leading a national conversation to better align the purpose of doctoral education with the varying skills, values, and interests of graduate students and the changing professional opportunities for historians within and beyond the academy. In the spring of 2018, 20 PhD-granting history departments were awarded Career Diversity implementation grants to support a team of faculty and a graduate student fellow to collaboratively build sustainable cultural and structural change in their doctoral programs. After two years of work at our partner institutions, we asked the fellows to discuss what they’ve learned and share some of the innovative ways they are creating student-centered doctoral programs that prepare history PhDs for a range of careers.
In this post, the fourth of a six-part series, Career Diversity fellows Allison Faber (Texas A&M Univ.), Trishula Patel (Georgetown Univ.), and Hope Shannon (Loyola Univ. Chicago) discuss the challenges of setting up graduate internship programs and how developing them enriches the graduate curriculum and helps students exercise agency in shaping their paths through graduate school.
What kinds of internships have you experienced or coordinated during the Career Diversity initiative? How did you find or set them up?
HS: When we started with Career Diversity at Loyola, one of the first things we noticed was a persistent belief among our students and faculty that students were already familiar with career diversity because Loyola has a strong public history program. Many of our students go on to secure academic jobs, and many others pursue careers in public history. But the idea that public history is synonymous with career diversity is both incorrect and highly problematic. Public history careers are one set of options among many available to historians with graduate degrees. To break down this assumption, we introduced new initiatives, including a new Career Diversity Internship, to encourage students and faculty to think about career diversity as preparation for a wide variety of careers, including, but not limited to, academic and public history pathways. The Career Diversity Internship is still very new and will take time to make its way into student plans for degree completion, but we’re optimistic about its potential.
The idea that public history is synonymous with career diversity is both incorrect and highly problematic.
AF: As a Career Diversity Fellow, I aided my faculty team in establishing a graduate internship course allowing students to receive course credit for internship hours. In addition to internship requirements, students participate in two collaborative sessions to compare notes with other interns and brainstorm how their internship experiences can enhance their graduate coursework. For the new internship course, we created a list of internship opportunities that students could select so they did not have to find them on their own. Although there are many internships listed online, many are found through a student’s own initiative. I have found that if there is not an internship listed on an organization’s website, the best way to set up an internship is to call and ask. The TAMU team also established an internship fair. The event introduced community partners representing multiple archives, state and local museums, presidential museums and libraries, and our university press to our graduate students. Internships with our press and positions in libraries and archives are the two most popular opportunities our students select. We also worked with other universities to create a Texas graduate internships resources guide.
TP: At Georgetown, we set up an internship practicum program for PhD students in our department, which allows two students a semester to take on internships outside the university related to their career and intellectual goals. Every student is allowed to use one semester of their stipend to take on this opportunity during their time in the graduate program. Having this guaranteed funding is critical for students while they take on this work, especially for international students. Our first round of applicants applied to jobs at nonprofits and foreign policy centers, connecting their research with their interests in careers in activism. Unfortunately, because of the competitive nature of internships in Washington, DC, none of our applicants were successful in securing the internships they applied for, so they worked as TAs instead. We’re hoping that the next round of applicants will have better luck for the fall semester, with the entire summer to apply to internships at more than one institution.
What benefits have you or other students gotten from these internships? What feedback are you hearing from the organizations that employed them?
Organizational leaders told us that history graduate students in particular brought a high level of analysis and critical thinking skills to their projects.
AF: Internships benefit both organizations and students. Graduate student interns are capable of performing high-level work. Organizational leaders told us that history graduate students in particular brought a high level of analysis and critical thinking skills to their projects. Students gain pragmatic skills in their field of interest and are also able to network with professionals. These concrete achievements and professional references are vital to the type of resume building activities that will help them secure future employment. A student who interned at our university archives reported that it enhanced their graduate experience and allowed them to envision how they wanted to approach a future career. Another student was able to work with our faculty coordinator and their on-site supervisor in order to connect archival projects to graduate curriculum requirements.
Has arranging them changed the ways you think about what historians are and can do?
TP: Arranging this program definitely changed the way our department thinks about the practical aspects of a graduate education in history by expanding our understanding of what a PhD can be used for, particularly in regards to public history, activism, and policy implementation. We’ve also seen a shift on the part of both students and some faculty regarding the pedagogical value of a history PhD, with many thinking about ways that history can be taught and talked about outside academic institutions.
Allison Faber is a PhD candidate at Texas A&M University and an instructor of Texas history at Lone Star College's Kingwood Campus. Their academic work focuses on family formation in the 20th-century United States.
Trishula Patel is a PhD candidate at Georgetown University and an adjunct professor at American University specializing in the history of race, segregation, and colonialism in Zimbabwe and the history of the South Asian diaspora in Africa. She has also worked as a journalist, photographer, and high school teacher.
Hope Shannon is a consulting historian with Omnia History, as well as the current executive director of the Urban History Association. She graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a PhD in United States history and public history in May 2020. Her research focuses on heritage and memory politics in US cities and suburbs.
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