Internships and fellowships can be great opportunities for students and recent graduates but what’s the difference between the two and which one would serve you best? I’ll use this blog post to briefly highlight some key differences between internships and fellowships and follow up with some tips for you to make the most and of your time in either position.
Internships are positions wherein services are exchanged for experience between a student and an organization. Compensation for an internship can be wages (preferably) or academic credit. A fellowship is sort of like a scholarship for work. Fellows perform scholarly research or other professional duties with a desired outcome in paid positions for a determinate amount of time and are usually further along academically and/or professionally.
While internships are usually available for undergraduate students or recent graduates, fellowships are usually reserved for candidates currently enrolled in, or who have recently completed an advanced degree program (i.e. master’s or doctoral). This is not to say that all fellowships are not for those with only a bachelor’s degree, but the structure of a fellowship will usually include a special project with a specific focus and may require a certain amount of background knowledge (organizations are responsible for disclosing this information during recruitment for the position.)
Tasks and Responsibilities
In function, an internship is an opportunity to gain experience by performing work with somewhat of a broad scope. Duties in an archives internship can range from assisting with reference and outreach, to primarily performing collections work such as creating finding aids or describing materials – it could also be doing a little bit of everything because an internship is focused on experiential overview. Job duties can vary across organizations and will depend on the guidelines of the internship. In short, internships provide an opportunity to develop a professional perspective based on hands-on experience in a specific field to determine a professional pursuit.
A fellowship program can be a short or long-term appointment funded by a host institution or an outside organization through grant funding. The work for a fellowship can culminate into a much larger project like a presentation, a publication, or an exhibit, and is completed using materials within the host organization’s archival collections. Other projects could include researching and analyzing new technology for implementation or performing a workflow assessment. While there is a learning component to a fellowship, candidates usually bring extensive background knowledge and/or are prepared to do advanced, heavy professional research with a hyper-specialized focus (collections management, ethnographic collections research, legal research, the arts, managing digital materials, etc.).
Some fellowship programs allow fellows to develop their own research projects influenced by their own interests or the host institution will have a more specific project or set of goals for a collection. The application requirements for a fellowship can speak to the level of prior knowledge needed by applicants. For example, if you’re applying to an institution with a specific collections focus, you may have to write a proposal outlining the materials you want to research and why. Lastly, the structure of fellowships varies across all organizations that offer fellowship programs and it’s up to applicants to consider what they would be interested in applying for.
As previously mentioned, compensation for an internship can be in academic credits or wages with financial compensation for internships varying from hourly pay to a stipend (a fixed sum). It’s very important to remember that even as an intern, you are still providing a service and should be compensated appropriately for your time and efforts whether it’s academic credit, money, or both (wouldn’t that be nice).
On the other hand, compensation for a fellowship can be very wide ranging, but at the bare minimum, most are termed appointments with a salary or stipend. Fellows usually have employee status within the host organization, therefore, regardless of their length, fellowships are more likely to include benefits such as paid time off, insurance, holidays, and professional development (conferences, webinars, workshops…) funding. The extent of these benefits are set at the discretion of the host and/or funding organization. In this regard, it’s very important to think about personal circumstances and nonnegotiables (term, travel, insurance…) – yours and the institutions – when applying for fellowships.
There are longstanding conversations about the ethics regarding compensation and treatment of interns and fellows, so it would benefit you greatly to learn about what’s being said and use that information to advocate for yourself and make sure you aren’t being taken advantage of.
Additional Tips and Info
If you have any flexibility with your position and it’s alright with your supervisor, I suggest exploring different areas to gain a working knowledge of various job functions. Maybe spend a day with a preservation or rare books librarian, or a cataloger to get an idea of what their job includes because it’s important to understand how everyone’s work overlaps – this information can be transferable knowledge that you can take to any institution.
Also, most academic programs (LIS schools, archives programs…) offer access to their curriculum online. If this information is not easy to find, you can also just reach out and request information about the program or even a specific course. I also recommend doing this if you’re already an intern, and there were classes you were/are unable to take. Having access to this information can help you think about what you want to learn during your time as an intern or help you to form some research ideas for a fellowship.
Make sure you look closely at the position requirements and descriptions. Regardless if you’re looking at internships or fellowships, the amount of structure and supervision can still vary, so use this time to think about you as a professional -What are your communication styles and needs? How are you as an independent worker? How would you describe and assess your time management and organizing skills?
I hope this brief detailing of fellowships and internships is helpful and if you have any questions please reach out to SNAP! Thanks for reading!
This article was written by Ashelee Gerald Hill, the Processing Archivist at the Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University. She received her MLIS from the University of North Carolina Greensboro in 2019.