Tag Archives: Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums

Strategizing Museum Internships to Meet (and Manage) Everyone’s Expectations – MAAM

What are the differences between an internship and a volunteer position? What is a good internship? A good intern?  These were just a few of the questions discussed in this panel with Dr. Petra Chu, Seton Hall University, Antonia Moser, Newark Museum, myself Pam Schwartz, student at Seton Hall University, and Pam Veenbaas, Smithsonian Institution.

Presenting four different perspectives from the point of view of an educator, an internship supervisor, a student and an internship coordinator, the panel discussed how to strategize internships in a way that can provide value to both the institution and the intern.

I have been fortunate to have interned at several types and sizes of museums, under many different personalities.  From my perspective, I find the most important things an institution can do are organize, communicate and evaluate.

  1.  When considering advertising for an intern, sit down and brainstorm all of the tasks/projects they can do.  It is better to have more items than to have a bored intern.
  2. Write appropriate postings.  Do not mislead an intern into thinking they will learn something they will not, or that nobody at the institution themselves knows how to do.
  3. Involve us in day-to-day activities.  It is not hard to let an intern sit in on a meeting or seminar and you might be surprised at what we can learn simply by attending.
  4. On the first day be clear about your expectations with the intern.  Your policies on dress, attendance, arriving late, professionalism etc.  You should also make it clear who the intern will report to.
  5. Provide your intern with some form of evaluation part-way through the internship.  This lets you inform the intern of their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to be aware of what they should improve upon.

The most important things an intern can do are communicate, be honest and evaluate.

  1.   When applying or interviewing for an internship, be prepared with questions and interview the museum as much they interview you.  You will be dedicating a large amount of time to the institution and you should be careful that it will be a good fit and you will gain from the internship what you hope to.
  2. If you don’t like your internship part way in, are unhappy or do not feel like you are gaining what you had hoped, then just be honest.  Tell your supervisor. If they don’t know you are unhappy, then it is hard for them to remedy the situation.
  3. Evaluate your internship in the same way your supervisor might evaluate you.  Is it meeting your expectations? Are you engaging in the activities you thought you would?

Pam Veebaas is an internship coordinator for the Smithsonian Institution, who has more than 1200 interns a year.  One important aspect of her job is screening internships applicants to ensure they are being chosen as candidates to learn a certain skill, not being chosen for the skills that they already have. The Smithsonian Institution defines an internship as:

“An internship at the Smithsonian Institution is a prearranged, structured learning experience that takes place within a specific time frame. The experience should be relevant to the stated academic and/or professional goals of the intern and to the disciplines represented at the Institution.”

I feel this is an excellent definition of what an internship should be and how it differs from a volunteer position.

Antonia Moser, registrar at the Newark Museum, discussed the necessity her institution has for interns and all the amazing opportunities they have to offer.  As a mid-sized institution in a difficult economy, interns have much to offer the museum and the museum in return can give the intern qualified experience in their field.

An interesting point Antonia brought up was about the difficulties sometimes had with enforcing professionalism in interns.  Often, the students are not being paid and making certain demands of their time, punctuality and dress may be daunting for supervisors.  However, internships are a study in the real life of a student’s chosen career field and they should be expected to act appropriately.  Again, communication is key: supervisors should be upfront immediately about punctuality and dress or professional expectations for students.  Supervisors should also not forget to lead by example!

Dr. Chu, department head of Museum Professions at Seton Hall University discussed the difference between an internship and a volunteer position.

Most interns are students paying to receive academic credit from their internship. Because of this, students should receive training/education equivalent to a (usually) three credit course at their home institution, which applies to their career field.

There is also the differentiation between an internship and what should be a paid position.

The U.S. Department of Labor defines six criteria for determining between these.

From an academic standpoint, Petra struggles with museums offering “internships” that are not providing students with qualified experience.  An institution should not offer an internship merely to get the work done because they themselves cannot complete it, or  because they themselves do not know how.

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MAAM and a Discussion With Myself

Many of you may remember my posts last year at the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Conference last year as a fellowship recipient.  This year I had the honor of attending as a session speaker.  MAAM, once again,  has definitely not failed in centering and rejuvenating my passion for all things museum.  After attending several thought-provoking sessions and luncheons I’m left with a million thought and new ideas.

My name is Pam and I WILL change museums.

This is a modified version of a quote from Nina Simon, this year’s Stephen Weill Ketnote Speaker and author of The Participatory Museum.  The modification being that I changed the word “want” to the word “will”.  I will be a museum revolutionary, I just need to find my niche.  What do I have to offer?  What purpose/idea do I want to pursue?  You see… I’m already getting off topic, back to MAAM.

But, my mind is million miles an hour.  This same sort of question is arising as I begin researching thesis topics.  What can I write about that is original, new, interesting and most importantly can make a difference?I love historic house museum, genealogy and inventive sustainability tactics for the survival of museums.  These things all greatly interest me, but what do I want to spend months writing sixty some pages about?

As I mentioned, I was a speaker at this year’s conference in a panel about internships organized by Petra Chu, Department Head at Seton Hall University in Museum Professions, where I’m getting my Masters.  My full post on our session will come later, but in keeping with my point (if I have one), our session made me consider the importance of internships both to the institution and to the intern.

So many people have questions about them and as far as I know there really isn’t a type of “master guide” to having and/or getting museum internships.  How should an institution create an intern program? Advertise one?  Manage interns? How can an intern land an internship? Get the most from one?

I’ve had several internships, all great in some way but also some with things that weren’t so great.  There aren’t too many in-depth resources for museum employees or interns/emerging professionals.  Maybe I should/could do that.  Try to help museums AND students with resources, how-to’s, do’s and don’ts.  I could get started by doing my thesis on hosting effective internship programs and on being an effective intern both for yourself and the museum you’re at.

Is there a need for this? Any sort of interest?MAAM session posts coming soon!


A Fellow’s reflection on the 2010 Conference

Pam Schwartz holding an original signed (by Abraham Lincoln) Emancipation Proclamation during the MAAM Conference Opening Reception.

This post originally published on the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Blog on October 31, 2010.

When I applied for the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Bruce Craig Fellowship, I had just begun planning my move from Iowa to New Jersey to attend graduate school at Seton Hall University. I knew that it could be a good networking occasion, a chance to meet a few other professionals in the area, and familiarize myself with some of the museums. I never guessed that the four days of the conference would be one of the most enriching experiences of my career thus far.

The opportunities made available to working professionals and students alike were many and worthwhile. I attended seminars over a broad spectrum of topics from online museum models to sustaining historic homes. I made acquaintances with colleagues from all over the world and came face to face with the spooks during our tour at the Eastern State Penitentiary.

Throughout the conference I was continually impressed by the amount of passion I saw in individuals for all things museum. Though we as museum professionals often converse about the dismal outlook of our field, I believe that, with so many passionate advocates, museums will sustain as appreciated and irreplaceable centers of edification for generations to come.

My favorite aspect of the conference was the Leadership Luncheon on Monday. Great conversation developed between mixed tables of seasoned and emerging professionals who all came ready to the table with questions and tips for one another. From this experience I gained valuable knowledge about the expectations of employers in my field as well as getting pointers for my cover letter and resume.

Thank you to all members of MAAM and the supporters of the Bruce Craig Fellowships. Your contributions help several emerging professionals each year to offset the costs of attending the conference and in giving them the opportunity to grow both as a professional and as a person. My experience at the 2010 Conference has been an amazing opportunity and I am already looking forward to attending next year.