What I Learned During My Summer Practicum: On Escape, Reevaluation, and Being a Public Human

To finish off my summer practicum, I had to put together a presentation of five things I learned. As I was doing this, I realized that the most important things I learned were the things that I already knew. And more importantly, I realized that I am a public human.

Let me back up: Grad school is hard. By the end of last semester, I looked at my summer practicum in DC as a way to escape my life and responsibilities back in Providence. Literally – I submitted my final assignment on a Thursday night, and I was on the plane to DC the next morning.

But I also looked at it as a way to rethink myself outside of the “student” identity I’ve been clinging to for…forever. I also realized that this was the first summer since high school where I wasn’t working multiple jobs AND/OR taking classes AND trying to be a person. So, when I wasn’t at the office, I let this summer about being a person first.

I spent a lot of time reading the books on my to-read shelf. (Highlights: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, and Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.) I invested in my half-marathon training, making it up to eight miles as I ran up and down the Rock Creek Parkway. (Side note: if you can run in DC humidity, I feel as though you can run through anything. My mile time has dropped almost two minutes on returning to New England.)

I started working on projects that I had put off for a long time. I drafted a Fulbright application (!!!), wrote blog posts, fleshed out project outlines, applied to conferences. Whether or not those are successful ventures, it doesn’t really matter – though it would be nice if they all did. But it let me write for myself – not for class, not taking notes, but actually getting ideas down on paper for the sheer sake of getting them down.

I rode the WMATA to pretty much everywhere. I visited a ton of museums and cultural institutions: small ones, big ones, art and history and science and culture. I spent time paying attention to my own reactions in these spaces, instead of the visitors like I normally do. What did I like about these spaces? What objects drew my attention? I read exhibit labels with reckless abandon, I joined docent tours or went on my own, and meandered.

I also did a lot of networking. (Or, at the very least, I tried to network. Still not sure how that works.) I reached out and asked people about their jobs and their work. I met with people with job titles across the spectrum – curators, librarians, archivists, historians, directors, grant officers, researchers, media technologists, even other grad students. In addition to getting to know some amazing people, I also found myself trying on their job titles as labels. Would I want to be here in a year? Can I see myself doing this type of work? I came out of almost all these conversations feeling really excited and energized to do exactly what they were doing – only to have the next conversation help me imagine a totally different life or opportunity.

And what I came away with, towards the very end of the summer, is this: I am a public human. I know that’s not a job title, but it is a goal. I’m invested in creating, supporting, and sustaining a public. The questions and values of public humanities – as undefinable as we might want to make them out to be – recognize people and ideas deserve individual attention, but also connected attention. My practicum at SCLDA helped pursue that by understanding the ways in which digital collections can fit into all of our lives to pursue these types of opportunities. The rest of my summer helped me realize that public humanities fits into my own life – what organizations I interact with, my own communities, and how best to advocate for that in the world around me. And I guess that means I’m in the right place. (Good job, me of the past!) it’s set up for this second and final year of the program knowing more clearly what I want out of being at Brown for another year.

It’s mid-semester now, and being back in the student routine has changed things a bit. But I’ve also built strategies for myself to make sure I get to be both a person and a student. I don’t do school work at home. I make my workouts less something that I have to do and more goal-oriented. I’m reading a bit more for fun (shout out to John Green’s new book!) I’m making sure to take time on the weekends to actually take a break, explore Providence, and not just sit in the library doing work all the time.

I took my practicum as well as the time outside it to reevaluate where I am. I really needed that opportunity, and I truly loved both the professional and personal aspects of my summer. And whatever may come next, I’m glad that I have found a way to be a public human as an identity in itself.

Thank you to all of the people who helped me come to these realizations:

  • to Steven Lubar, Ron Potvin, and my cohort for following me virtually through this practicum
  • to everyone at SCLDA, especially Pino Monaco and Stephanie Norby, for providing the wonderful opportunity to work with them this summer
  • to everyone who responded to my emails and met with me
  • to the International Student House of DC community & the people who I ate breakfast & dinner with every day

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