The Heritage Partnerships Team is committed to growing expertise within the University of Oxford to enable students, researchers and professional staff to develop collaborative projects with the UK and international heritage sector. We achieve this through the Heritage Pathway Researcher Training and Development Programme; Internships and Placements; and DPhil studentships. Gearing up for the next round of micro-internships organised by the Careers Service, we are pleased to feature this blog post by Grace Stafford, DPhil Candidate in Classical Archaeology. Grace shares her experiences and lasting impressions from her participation in the scheme.
During Trinity Term I completed a five-day micro-internship with the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation on their ongoing project, ‘Contested Histories in Public Spaces’. This project is part of an initiative to address controversies over statues, monuments, street names and other sites of disputed historical legacies in public spaces, providing stake-holders with well-researched case studies to assist in decision-making related to dealing with those controversies. The internship was conducted remotely because of Covid, but represented a breath of fresh air even if I was still stuck at home. I produced two really different case studies, one about a column monument in Czechia and the other a war memorial in Mozambique. I’m currently a third-year DPhil student specialising in late antique archaeology, so while the internship was not directly related to my work, I can assure you that Late Antiquity had more than its fair share of disputed public monuments!
If you’re doing a doctorate, you might think it unwise to take on an internship while you’re trying to research and write your thesis, but I really cannot recommend it enough. I encourage you to go and check out the Contested Histories project because it really is fascinating work, but for the rest of this blog post I want to tell you why a micro-internship could be a great choice for your research, your career, and your personal well-being. I’ve actually done two of them, one in my first year and one in my third year, so I think this advice is applicable whether you’re still wrestling with research questions or polishing your conclusions.
- Refresh your brain
Academic life is intellectually gruelling. There are days – we all have them – when you sit in front of your computer and stare at your work wondering why your brain no longer functions. Everyone develops their own ways of getting through this on a daily basis, such going for a walk or indulging in some well-deserved Netflix. Sometimes, however, it takes something a bit more substantial to get yourself back into gear. I have found that micro-internships offer a great opportunity to set aside your thesis for a little while and think about a completely different set of tasks. These tasks are rewarding and fulfilling, while giving your ideas about your research time to settle. When you return to normality, having had that breathing space makes it much easier to consider things objectively.
- Build your self-confidence
Aside from being intellectually challenging, life as a postgrad student can be lonely and at times demoralising. If you have ever experienced the sort of mental blocks I described above, you will know that it can be tempting to view them as a sort of failure. How can I possibly be a successful human if I can’t even write this abstract??? Taking some time away and opening yourself up to new things will remind you that throughout the process of being a DPhil student you have developed all kinds of transferable skills. The micro-internships I completed had nothing directly to do with archaeology, but I had the research, time management, and critical thinking skills to work effectively on those projects. Realising that you do have a lot to offer can be great way to boost your confidence and self-belief.
- Explore career options
Just because you are doing a DPhil doesn’t mean you want to pursue a career in academia – we all know how competitive it is as a career path. If you’re thinking about other career directions, a micro-internship is the perfect way to test the waters without committing too much of your time. It is also a good way to see what sort of jobs are out there if you have no idea what sort of direction you want to go in. Head to the careers centre website and have a search through the internships available and see if anything stands out. These might be in fields closely aligned to your research, or they might be totally different. For just five days of your time, you can even afford to take a punt on something you’ve never considered before.
- Meet new people and make new connections
If you already have an idea of the sort of opportunities you’re looking for, completing a micro-internship is a chance to meet people and make contacts in that area. I ended up co-organising a conference with one of the people I did my first micro-internship with! Academia is called an ivory tower for a reason, it can be difficult to make connections beyond the university. Micro-internships offer an opportunity to get a toe in the door and get your name out there. Even in these days of remote internships, you will still be meeting with people via Zoom, Teams, or even over the old-fashioned telephone.
- Have fun and enjoy yourself!
It’s all too easy to let DPhil life get on top of you. It can be very stressful and isolating, especially if, like me, your field means that much of your work is done on your own, camped out in the library. You work hard (believe me, I know!) and you deserve some time to dedicate to stuff beyond your thesis. Oxford can be a strange place at times, but it can also open the doors to some great experiences that it would be more difficult to access on the outside. Make the most of those opportunities if you want them and give yourself a break from your research if you need it. For me, doing the micro-internships represented a chance to take a step back, do something different, and remind myself that I am much, much more than just a thesis.
Grace Stafford is a DPhil Candidate in Classical Archaeology at Wolfson College. Her research concerns the material and visual culture of Late Antiquity, with a specific focus on gender.
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