Mt. A student interns at Smithsonian Museum

Intership gives hands-on, world class experience.

This reading week, I spent my time working as an intern at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. In a city full of fantastic (and free) museums, those associated with the Smithsonian are in a class of their own. From art galleries, to air and space museums, to zoos, these public spaces create widely accessible and beautifully crafted educational environments.

 Behind the walls of the exhibits lining three stories of the Museum of Natural History are floors with offices, laboratories, scientists, libraries, and thousands, if not millions, of specimens. While I had just a small glimpse behind the scenes, I saw entire floors devoted to the study of minerals, anthropological objects from around the world, and molecular laboratories decoding the mysteries of ancient organisms.

I spent my time in the Department of Botany. Spanning two floors of the building, the herbarium at the museum is one of the largest in the world. The multitude of specimens in this department means that the vast majority of this information is not available to the general public. I assisted the development of a database which will allow the distribution of informative scientific research, in this case the extensive collection of the botanist José Cuatrecasas. His extensive photographs, spanning seventy years, are a valuable scientific and cultural resource that will soon reach a wider audience.

The Smithsonian Institution is one of the major scientific research organizations in the world with multiple research centres and a plethora of public museums and educational opportunities. They offer more than 1,800 internships each year as well as research fellowships for a diverse range of projects.

Mount Allison students find plenty of unique spring break opportunities, from organizations like Global Brigades to more typical beach vacations, but there are also options available for those looking to do a more educational work during the week. Programs exist for every possible interest and discipline as long as you are able to expand your search beyond your region or even your country.

The structure of internships is designed to benefit both the employer and the intern by providing a valuable learning opportunity and the possibility of employment. Unpaid internships have been criticized in recent years for the ease with which they can exploit young workers, and how they can become an opportunity only for those who can afford to work unpaid for an extended period of times.

 Personally, I spent a week when I wouldn’t normally be working gaining a brand new and valuable experience. Ideally internships expose the interns to new possibilities in their preferred field, and provide a taste of the work experience. That is precisely what I learned, and I would jump at the chance to return.

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