MS/LIS student Michael Pritz discusses his internship with NASA.
What is your area of interest at the iSchool?
One of the best things about this program is the opportunity it offers students to explore a variety of different career paths. So even though my main area of interest is public libraries, I’ve always had it in the back of my mind to keep my options open no matter what, just because you never know what's out there if your head is down.
Where do you work, and what is your role?
Since June, I've been a full-time Library & Archives intern at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The position is part of NASA's Pathways Program, which is essentially their recruitment program for current students and recent graduates. Langley's Technical Library holds the largest aerospace collection in the entire country, so some of what I do involves helping scientists and engineers achieve their research objectives, whether that's providing a comprehensive literature search on a particular topic or pointing them in the direction of a specific document. My main focus lately, however, has been redesigning the library's website to make it more modern and user-friendly.
How did you find out about the position?
I learned about the position the same way I've learned about every other library job I've had in the past 2+ years—from the iSchool weekly newsletters.
What new skills have you acquired during your time with the organization?
We're currently in the process of moving to a new building, so it's been fascinating to witness firsthand just what an enormous undertaking it is to move an entire library collection from one place to another. Other than that, I wouldn’t say that I've necessarily acquired new skills per se, but I've definitely gotten a chance to refine/expand upon skills I've acquired through class and/or previous jobs. For example, I knew nothing about web design prior to taking Web Design and Construction for Organizations (IS 590WDO) with Diane Kovacs. That class gave me the tools to be able to come here and feel confident heading the library's web design effort. Likewise, I didn’t have a very good understanding of how databases at libraries were structured or even accessed prior to taking Information Organization and Access (IS 501) with Linda Smith. That class gave me the skills to be able to navigate my way around all the various technical databases and repositories offered by NASA's library. Aside from that, I've also acquired a lot of new nerdy/scientific technical jargon, which is always fun.
What do you like best about working at the organization?
Well, it's NASA, so there are a lot of really cool extracurricular things happening all the time, especially for the interns. Since I've been here, I've seen the original site where the Apollo Moon landings were first simulated, walked inside an enormous Subsonic Wind Tunnel, and signed a birthday card for Katherine Johnson. Just this past week, I got to hang out in one of the theaters at the center and watch the live feed from the InSight landing on Mars, which was kind of surreal. Overall, I would say the atmosphere at Langley is very similar to that of a college campus. Plus the people here are also really great, too—especially the folks I work with in the library.
What would you advise current students who are interested in an internship opportunity?
To all the students who are quiet, or shy, or introverted, or might not have much library experience just yet and are maybe experiencing some feelings of self-doubt: You're worth way more than you think. I know this because I was/am very much the same way. When I first entered the iSchool, I had no library experience whatsoever; I only knew that I wanted to work in one. In the past two years, I've probably applied to 50+ jobs/internships looking for any opportunity I could find. There's a good chance some places might not call you back but keep trying. Even if you feel like you might not be qualified for a position, apply anyway. When I applied to NASA, I thought they'd never call me back in a million years, and now I somehow work here. When you do get an interview somewhere, it's perfectly normal to freak out 20 minutes beforehand. It will pass. As long as you know in your heart that libraries are where you belong and you stay committed, that will resonate with an employer way more than you think. Most importantly, if you suck, that's okay. Just treat it like a learning opportunity, and the next time you will suck a little less. In fact, treat everything like a learning opportunity. The coolest thing about being an intern (or a student, in general) is that you're basically given free rein to be as much of an idiot as you’d like. Cherish it.
What are your plans after you complete your degree?
The internship itself is for a year but it’s also designed to coincide with my program at the iSchool. As long as I don't accidentally burn the place to the ground, I should be offered a permanent position once I graduate next spring.