Most people are familiar with the name “Smithsonian”. What likely comes to mind are elementary or middle school trips to our nation’s capital that include obligatory stops to three museums on the National Mall: the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Air and Space Museum. Most people would also likely add the Smithsonian’s newest addition unveiled last Fall: the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Fewer people know that there are, in fact, nineteen museums and galleries that make up the Smithsonian Institution. Eleven of these museums are located on the National Mall, still five others are spread across Washington D.C., with one in Virginia, and two in New York City. Additionally, the Smithsonian Institution has 168 affiliate museums in 39 states across the U.S. As an institution, the Smithsonian also has several administrative offices that do a lot of work behind-the-scenes for Smithsonian museums and affiliates.
One of these offices is the Office of Policy and Analysis (OP&A), and I am one of five interns in this office of ten full-time staff members. OP&A offers research services to all of the Smithsonian museums and affiliates to address topics encompassing audience research and organizational effectiveness. Since this is a small office, I have the opportunity to work closely with full-time staff members on their research. Many interns in this office leave with their name attached to a paper published in an academic journal due to their participation on projects. However, on average, one project takes about six months to complete. I am currently working on two projects, but only one will be complete by the end of my ten week internship.
I am given a lot of responsibility and autonomy for the projects I am working on, including drafting and testing the interview guides I create. Both of my projects involve audience research and feedback, so I have gained a lot of qualitative interviewing skills over the past few weeks. I have recently begun working on a literature review that will be included in the paper published at the end of one of my projects.
My most memorable experience in this internship so far was meeting and interviewing the former Surgeon General under President Obama. When I go out to conduct interviews, the venue is carefully chosen based on the various demographics needed for the project. Vivek Murthy and his wife were having lunch when I approached them at the National Portrait Gallery courtyard, and both of them graciously answered my questions about personal identities with extremely insightful responses. This was my first encounter with a “D.C. celebrity”, but I hope it will not be the last!