Internships as Part of the REL M.A. Program

Caity Bell's work space, this past summer, preparing a museum exhibit

We recently sat down with Caity Bell, a second year M.A. student in Religious Studies, and talked about internship opportunities. This past summer she helped frame historic representations during her internship with the Landmarks Association of DeKalb County (pictured above).

1. How did you first hear about the chance to do an internship as part of your MA in Religious Studies?

Caity: I first heard about the opportunity during one of our colloquium sessions. Dr. Merinda Simmons, our Grad Director, had invited Dr. Susan Reynolds, Editor for Alabama Heritage, to discuss the various ways she’s used her degree in the Humanities to her benefit in jobs outside of traditional academic positions. Susan mentioned at the end of our meeting that she was looking for interns to help out at the magazine the following semester and I was quick to apply for the position. Though I didn’t choose to receive academic credit for the internship I did still work it into the independent study I was doing with my advisor, Dr. Steven Ramey.

2. What sort of internship(s) have you done and what were you doing in each?

Caity: The first internship I had was with Alabama Heritage. I helped to fact-check articles that were submitted for publishing, ensuring that historical information, such as names, dates, and places, were all correct. I also served as one of the many people who proofread articles at each stage of their advancement towards publication. Aside from editorial work, I also had the chance to write my own article for the magazine’s “Alabama Makers” segment. I was able to interview a business owner from my hometown who’s helping to revive a historic industry in the city and from that I now have an article that’s due to be published in an upcoming issue of the magazine.

The second internship I had took place over the summer of 2019 in my hometown of Fort Payne, AL. I was working with the Landmarks Association of DeKalb County to set up a local exhibit to complement the state’s traveling bicentennial exhibit that the association’s museum was hosting during the summer. In addition I helped to edit and publish an annual newsletter for the historical association that’s currently in print.

My current internship is with the Acquisitions Department of the University of Alabama Press. The work I’m assisting with focuses on getting projects ready for review by the board who then decide whether or not to move toward establishing contracts and publishing the projects. My plan is to continue interning with them during the upcoming spring semester, either continuing with acquisitions or helping the editorial department depending on availability for interns.

3. Internships provide practical experience outside the classroom but they’re also said to be a great way to meet people in careers in which you have an interest—has this been the case for you?

Caity: This has definitely been the case for me. Following my internship with Alabama Heritage I was asked to help set up a conference they were hosting over the summer at the state archives in Montgomery. During this time I got the chance to meet the staff that work in the archives and also network with people who work in other museums and historical associations across Alabama, which are all incredibly useful connections to establish since I’m looking toward museum work as a possible career path. During my internship with them last spring I was also able to attend a conference that allowed me to meet Dan Waterman, which subsequently led to my current internship at UA Press.

4. In the Humanities today we often talk about the unexpected ways that the skills you learn in our classes can be applied—was this the case for you? Can you give us any examples?

Caity: Definitely. The ability to think critically about the ways in which something you create will be received by a large number of people has certainly played a role in each of my internships. Perhaps most notably during my internship in Fort Payne as I had the chance to create the narrative thread that wove together the items in the exhibit on the city’s local history. It really put me in the role of the museum professionals I had previously analyzed in my undergraduate Honors Thesis with Dr. Ramey, and it certainly shaped the way I approached the task. It all ties in to how we’re taught to approach a text—paying careful mind to generalizations being made and the weight (socially, historically, etc.) that certain classifications carry, particularly in a modern reading of a historical text. That alone has been incredibly useful in editorial work as well as in the museum world. Not to mention the digital experience our Department works to provide. The ability to manage and create websites, digital archives, and even use photo-editing software has played a significant role in my summer internship. A big concern in these historical associations now is moving towards promoting themselves in the digital world and it’s those skills that really help to distinguish you in internships and, I assume, down the road in the job market.

Might an internship lead to a career, in your case?

Caity: I certainly hope so. I’m working to get a certificate in museum studies alongside my M.A. in Religion in Culture, so it’s been great to have had the chance to work in a museum and to have met museum professionals from my internships that aren’t museum-focused. I do have an ever-growing interest in publishing, so I definitely hope that the work I’ve done with Alabama Heritage and that I am currently doing with UA Press will help to add the type of professional experience to my CV that could land me a job with a magazine or publishing firm.

Caity Bell preparing for a conference

Caity Bell is a second year M.A. student in Religion and Culture who’s also enrolled in the Museum Certificate program. Her work focuses on representations in museum exhibits and the ways traditional historic narratives can be challenged through the use of digital humanities.

Learn more about internships in REL here.