Monday, March 7, 2011

Guest Blogger! Kelly Anderson, Graduate Assistant

When thinking about attending graduate school, prospective students find themselves asking all sorts of questions.  What will it be like?  How much will it cost?  What's the workload consist of?  Can I get an assistantship?  It can be an overwhelming experience, that's for sure.  But never fear: we're here to help.

In an effort to help our readers (many of whom are prospective students) learn a bit more about what the life of a graduate student is like, we're starting a guest blogger series, featuring none other than our very own graduate students.

First up is Kelly Anderson, a graduate assistant in the Public History program.  Kelly will be graduating this May (congrats, Kelly!), but not without leaving some valuable words of wisdom about her experience.  You can learn more about Kelly by reading the profile we posted about her last year.

Public History Graduate Assistant Kelly Anderson in an American Bantam as part of her internship at the Frick Art and Historical Center

At a round table discussion in the summer of 2010, a student in the Historical Editing course asked a program alumna what she found to be the most beneficial part of Duquesne’s Archival, Museum, and Editing curriculum: internships, she replied, and her fellow alumnae concurred. Only a few months away from being counted among the alumni body myself, I find that I whole-heartedly agree with this sentiment. The experience students can gain from their internships in either the museum, archival, or editing fields will be the most educational and important of their time at Duquesne.
My internships at the Heinz History Center and the Frick Art and Historical Center have given me two vastly different but equally valuable experiences. On my first day in the History Center’s Publications Department this past fall, I thought that reading articles and drafts of Western Pennsylvania History would be the full extent of my work there. However, when the internship was finished in early December, I had helped shape future issues by critiquing a variety of stories and features, and was even given the chance to co-author an article about a Pittsburgh man who had commanded a unit of Buffalo Soldiers during the Indian Wars. Not quite what I’d expected! Nor did I expect to be sitting in an electric blue, 1940s era American Bantam, steering it up a steep incline as curators and art handlers at the Frick pushed it into the Car and Carriage Museum’s exhibit gallery during the spring semester. A construction project to repair the snow-damaged gallery roof had forced the museum staff to move the cars on display into a safer location while the work was conducted. The construction project now finished, we brought each car back up again, and I jumped behind the wheel of the Bantam and later a canvas-top Peugeot to help the effort.
Not exactly your typical day at the office, one might think, but each of my fellow Duquesne students has unique stories to tell concerning their own internships. Perhaps then, co-authoring a magazine article and “driving” antique cars isn’t all that unusual for museum professionals. That’s what makes Duquesne’s internships so crucial to the public history program. Of course internships involve lots of non-glamorous work as well. I’ve searched the History Center Library and Archives for article illustrations, poured over magazine footnotes for the tiniest of typos, taken temperature and relative humidity readings at the Car and Carriage Museum, and polished Plexiglas display cases to a high shine at the Frick Art Museum. It would be impossible to be a true museum professional without understanding the smallest tasks requiring attention at most institutions. It would also be difficult to excel at one’s career without also being able to take on the more unusual jobs, no matter how unexpected or difficult they are. Duquesne is fortunate that the institutions which sponsor their student internships allow those students so much flexibility and provide them with a wide-range of practical experiences.
 It is up to the students, however, to make the most of their time at their particular institution. I have no doubt that all of us have coasted through a few undergraduate courses, having done just that myself (who is ever going to need to know the history of Spain, I figured). However, graduate-level courses, especially the professional classes and internships, are the things that truly prepare us for our future careers. Now is not the time to merely get by, no matter how unglamorous our work might be. It’s the time to jump in with both feet, volunteer for every mundane and odd job, and ask a million questions. If we have to put in at least 125 hours anyhow, we should make each one of them count. And if we happen to get a bit bored with entering climate data into a spreadsheet, we can remember that we’re doing what we love—museum work. We get to walk through the door marked “Private: Staff Only,” look at beautiful artifacts in our own office, and discover fascinating documents in a dusty archival box. Who knows, we may even help a patron get excited about history through our efforts. It is undeniable that public history internships are the most vital part of the Duquesne program, and I highly encourage students to challenge themselves in their work.

1 comment:

  1. Kelly - the same sentiments could be echoed by someone who's been in the field a while. Just today I spent hours at a copy machine and dumped water down all of our drains to combat an ongoing drain trap stench problem, but also helped plan a major new tour program. But that's part of the fun of the field - you find yourself doing a little bit of everything.

    Best of luck with graduation and beyond! Have fun!

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