Students already have a slew of questions when choosing an internship. Who will I intern for? What kind of work will I do? Will networking be hard? But summer 2020 internships brought a totally new question to the table: What will an internship look like in the midst of a pandemic?
“The project I applied for would have been very hands-on, but the library closed its buildings and implemented remote work for all of its employees in March,” said MLIS student Meredith Atkinson, who participated in the Library of Congress’ Junior Fellows program. “Everyone was working from home, and everyone was struggling with new technology at the same time. There was very much a process of figuring out what worked, especially when it came to web- conferencing.”
Junior information science major Elle Boyle interned at Colonial Life | Unum in Columbia. “I worked remotely this entire summer,” she says. “It certainly made it harder to connect with teammates and hit a general stride in the beginning.”
Noah Walker, now an information science alumnus, interned at Nephron Pharmaceuticals in Columbia. “When the state opened back up, the CEO, Lou Kennedy, enforced masks to be worn 24/7 in the facility,” he says. “Also, hand sanitizing stations were at every entry and exit as well as a computerized temperature checker.”
Fitting in at an internship during a pandemic comes has its challenges; from figuring out how to work remotely to adhering to different protocols on site, there are new obstacles everywhere. But the students agreed there were still plenty of positives.
“I had a lot of built-in supports through my mentors, both on my team and through the intern program,” Boyle said. “I was also able to meet people living all over the world — seriously, from London, England to Carlow, Ireland and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, two different Portlands and more.”
For the Junior Fellows program, the internship coordinators and program mentors helped Atkins and other interns transition to virtual projects.
“It was different than expected, but I still learned so much,” Atkins said. “It was also nice not having to worry about a commute, and my cat kept me company while I worked.”
Even though 2020 internships were a shot in the dark, students still gained important skills and made a positive impact on their employers.
“Toward the end of my summer experience, we had a staff meeting where myself and another intern on the team shared some final thoughts on what we’d worked on,” Boyle said. “When I finished talking about my experience, a couple of team members gave me shout-outs on my work and my skills. That was really validating and made happy because I was able to contribute to the team, even though I was only there for a short time.”