In the Kiva Auditorium at Temple University’s campus, I stood before 30-35 people, a mix of undergraduate and graduate students and professionals. Unlike other public-speaking experiences, this one did not fill me with pre-presentation jitters. What struck me the most, as I spoke, was the look of mild to visible surprises from students when I stood up. I can’t say for sure the cause but I can speculate. I think, like me, they were surprised that someone relatively close in age was an internship supervisor. I’m standing there speaking, “My name is Ashley Stevens and I’m an archivist….” the words literally coming out of my mouth as my mind is going, “Whoa, most of these students look like they’re around my age!”
You’re probably thinking that this whole description is odd. Or, why is this important? Humor me.
I think that moment was indicative of how I have processed this whole internship supervisor experience. I’m in the gray space. That area of professionalism where you don’t quite feel like a professional and yet you’re doing professional things and more professional opportunities for growth continue to find you. And, I’m making that slow incremental shift to my new peer group. No longer part of the students. And yet, not quite comfortable among the die-hard archivists out there who’ve been in the game more than 5+ years.
But, here I am. Three years in and still feeling like a newbie. I say that not for sympathy but the reality of my situation. I think there are many us out there in the gray space. The graduate school experience somewhat fresh in our minds but not feeling fully like professionals who are doing professional things.
I hadn’t quite wrapped my mind around all of this over the course of the 10 weeks as my intern’s project was conducted mostly via email and shared docs on Google Drive. There was a virtual distance. This was due in large part to the constraints of my job’s current situation. We just didn’t have the capacity (or stability) to take on a flesh and blood person at our site. Besides, when you look at the nuts and bolts of what the project entailed, it required more research and writing. All of these things that didn’t have to occur onsite.
Because of the nature of the project, I hoped that I wouldn’t get a slacker. What I got was the very industrious and professional Ben. He took this project and ran with it. Along the way, he had questions. Questions I hadn’t anticipated. Questions that required me to say, “let me think on that and get back to you.” Someone looking to me to be the expert, when I didn’t feel like an expert.
Sometimes, Ben and I would go a week without an email exchange and I’d wonder, “am I being a bad supervisor?” “Should I be checking in on him more?” But then I heard that little voice inside my head that would say, “No, you have a clear outline which lists what and when things are due. Ben is a capable student. And you are a capable supervisor.” Thanks voice in my head! What reaffirmed that this was the right approach was in Ben’s final progress report. It was more of a review of the project. What worked? What didn’t? What challenges did he face? More importantly, what could be improved for next time?
You know what, he said nothing in regards to my supervising. He did have some suggestions for improving the overall project but he found my supervision to be the right balance of communication. It was encouraging. An external affirmation that I’ve got this.
I’m not sure if that feeling of being perpetually in “the gray space” will ever go away. Only time can tell that, I’m sure. It often begs the question of when that feeling ever fades away or is it always there? A nice little motivator to keep moving forward. You don’t like feeling like a newbie. Do something about it. Grow in that area that you feel weak in. I don’t know. At least for now, that’s how I’m choosing to see it.