Friday, January 15, 2016

Internships for Humanities Students

Douglas Baker, the president of Northern Illinois University, has recently urged university faculty and staff members to help students find internship opportunities. His announced goal is an internship for every student.

Dr. Baker has a background in business education, where internships have been shown to help students trained in specific business skills to find jobs. I have observed that engineering and computer science students can also often find internship opportunities in the private sector.

But what of humanities students?

They do not develop the types of specific skills (i.e., accounting, computer programming) that allow them to provide a business or organization providing an internship opportunity with an immediate contribution. In many cases educators have traditionally thought of humanities majors as training for executive work, because they teach the general critical-thinking skills needed to think strategically. That idea seems to be very much under siege now.

I presently work with NIU's Digital Convergence Lab to provide students with opportunities to explore how digital scholarship technology like text-mining and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can facilitate new types of humanities work. I am about to start on my second such experiential learning activity his semester.

To date we have had trouble attracting interested humanities students, while computer science majors have been more interested in taking part.

I intend to spend this semester introducing humanities faculty members and administrators at NIU to the idea of digital humanities as internships for humanities majors.

I certainly do not intend to claim that participation in a single experiential learning activity devoted to text-mining or GIS will enable a Philosophy major to go out and get a job using that technology.

I do intend to introduce humanities faculty and students to the idea of working with source materials at scale, however.  

This type of work increasingly makes up a very important, even crucial, part of any relatively large business or organization's administrative activities.

At present most humanities majors or graduate students do something like this: read a specific number of texts very closely, then write a paper identifying and discussing a theme within them.

This may prepare individuals for law school, but in an age of big data, it may seem positively archaic to most employers.

If humanities students can become acquainted with how to work with data - any data - at scale, they will have benefited from such an internship. Even if they cannot master the technology in a semester, humanities students can begin to understand what types of questions the technology can help them to ask.

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