The most challenging aspect of being a student for me has always been standing out. In college I went to every class and completed every assignment, but I quickly learned that high marks did not lead to a strong impression. I also learned that name recognition with professors was a key part of success. I have had professors who would forget appointments, even though they had seen me in class hours before. Being stereo-typically absent minded, they’d need two or three e-mails before offering a short, terse, response. These interactions (or lack-there-of) always left me feeling brushed aside and not worthy of their time.
Luckily, graduate school cured me of this self-depreciating attitude in response to forgetful professors. I learned to recognize that while it was true that they were very busy people who can’t set everything aside for one student, their laissez-faire mentoring was actually a vote of confidence. They trusted that I could meet dead-lines without constant check-ins and was fully capable of directing myself. Although the sting of annoyance never lessened when a professor sauntered to their office thirty minutes late asking casually, “Oh, did we have an appointment?” I developed an odd sort of pride in the fact that they were so confident in my abilities that they didn’t have to worry about keeping me on track.
Being a virtual intern feels like being in this situation all over again. The difference is, now I have absolutely no face-time with my supervisor. Whereas in school I could pass a few ideas by my instructors after class or camp outside their offices, now the only recourse I have is incessant e-mails. There have been a few times when a call time for a phone meeting have never been completely nailed down because my supervisors never confirm when they are available. The feeling of being on a team working towards a lofty goal is greatly undercut when the supervisor forgets a conference call.
Given the severe lack of direction, I’ve become quite comfortable assigning myself tasks. I would like to report that I came up with some ingenious idea without supervisor direction, but instead I just kept perfecting the assigned task. I quadruple-checked every one of my entries, and rewrote my blog post in the absence of direction. Although I often felt that I was not using my time effectively, I have never had more confidence in the precision and accuracy of my work.
Next semester, I would like use my time more creatively if outreach to my supervisors go unanswered. Given that this project collects GIS data, I think I might try to make a visualization of our data. I would like to map the museums of an island, or perhaps compare the locations of museums across the islands to build a predictive model towards locating other museums. I think population density and proximity to cruise ship landings are two factors that most heavily influence museum location in the Caribbean. I might also use these same factors to see if there is a difference in locations between specialty museums and general interest museums.