Off-campus Internships as a Humanities Graduate Student – A Short Debriefing

Thomas Breideband has a Magister Artium degree in Theater and Performance Studies and American Studies from Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Germany. He is currently a dual degree PhD candidate in the Department of English at Georgia State, and the American Studies Department at Mainz University. His research interests lie at the intersection of New Media Studies, Rhetoric, and Social Capital Theory. When he is not working — which rarely happens — he plays and records a variety of music with his beloved Fender American Telecaster. You can read more about Thomas and his work on his blog.

As an exciting and eventful 2017 has now drawn to a close, it’s time to reflect about my recent internship experience. Over the course of the 2017 fall semester, I had the great pleasure of working as a Digital Media Specialist at the Mixed Reality Marketing Agency, Foundry 45. This Atlanta-based, digital consultancy agency was founded in 2015 and specializes in creating powerful, immersive virtual experiences that are tailored to the specific marketing and PR needs of corporate, governmental, and educational clients including Coca Cola, AT&T, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, and Georgia Tech University. My role as Digital Media Specialist involved working closely with the agency’s PR and Marketing consultant to help execute the agency’s promotional strategies across a number of communication channels.

During the four months I worked with Foundry 45, I wrote and uploaded case studies, created regular blog posts on various issues, accompanied the team to digital marketing and virtual reality conventions in Atlanta, and communicated the agency’s successes across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Overall, it was a great, insightful, and—in retrospect—extremely valuable experience. It was very interesting and rewarding to shift professional gears, to briefly leave the familiarity of my graduate studies in the humanities and immerse myself in the fast-paced, and exciting world of a digital technology start-up. The work was versatile, often open-ended, it was both directed as well as self-guided, and the entire team at Foundry 45 provided excellent guidance throughout my internship.

Guidance was important. As a graduate student and instructor of record at Georgia State University, I am, of course, very much familiar with my professional roles and responsibilities within an academic work environment. In fact, I am keenly aware of the audiences I have been dealing with on a regular basis, be they faculty, the larger research community I belong to, university officials, and last but not least, the students I’ve had the pleasure to teach over the course of the last years. As a Digital Media Specialist, however, I had to deal with different types of audiences: prospective clients, social media followers, and mixed reality influencers. I have to say that it took me some time to acquaint myself with these new audiences I was creating content for. I have experiences publishing book chapters for edited collections, articles for research journals, and I’m familiar with the particular writing necessary for research grant applications. Yet, the first couple of pieces of written content I produced for Foundry 45 were, according to my supervisor’s feedback, way too long and a slightly convoluted. “You have enough content here for two posts actually,” was one of the comments, for instance. Fortunately, I quickly found my way around producing more appropriate content, and I also had the chance to get my feet wet using creative software applications such as Photoshop and Adobe Premiere, as well as working with website hosting platforms such as Webflow and WordPress.

The whole experience has left me with the conviction that off-campus internships are an important and invaluable component for graduate education in the humanities, and that an internship program for graduate students should be formalized throughout humanities departments. I strongly believe that, as an instructor of composition and critical thinking it is my job to equip students with the skills they need to succeed in any type of professional communication environment. These environments are, however, prone to change, and in order for current graduate students to stay up-to-date, it becomes crucial to gather first-hand experiences. In turn, companies will also benefit from the particular skillsets that humanities graduate students bring to the table such as a strong work ethic, the ability to compile, analyze, and present information in compelling ways, and the ability to work individually and in teams. It is my belief that departmentally-sponsored internship programs will not only enhance the pedagogies of graduate students, it will also bring the academic and the private sector closer together—a win-win situation for both. Moreover, given the difficult situation that many graduates face when they try to find full-time positions at a university, it is also beneficial for graduate students to complete professional internships so that alternative career paths also remain a possibility post-graduation.

On the whole, I strongly encourage other graduate students in the humanities to consider doing an internship outside the university. It has made me a better communicator, a better researcher, and I feel, a better teacher.