Reflections on My Summer Internship at UNC Press

By Siobhan Barco J.D., Ph.D. Student in History

Siobhan Barco

Last spring, through Versatile Humanists at Duke I received funding to create my own off-campus summer internship that would bring together both my professional strengths and new learning opportunities. After thinking through how to best design my summer, I approached the University of North Carolina Press with a proposal to create a podcast series based on their legal history works. This plan would put my experience creating podcasts and my background as a legal historian to use, while also allowing me to learn more about press operations and to engage with new works in my field of interest. After talking through my ideas with various members of UNC Press staff, I was happy to learn that the press would enthusiastically support this project.

From the beginning, setting up the internship was a useful experience. With the collaboration of my supervisor, I designed a workplan, outlining expectations and duties for the summer. Some important components of the workplan included setting deadlines, outlining deliverables, establishing duties, and defining a system for receiving feedback. Creating a workplan is a useful practice for any graduate student to build expertise in effective communication and project management—skills which greatly help with advisor relationships and managing the completion of a dissertation. Additionally, the practice of designing and implementing a project is good preparation for professions both within and outside of academia.

Working at UNC Press brought me up close to the vital role academic presses play in supporting the scholarship needed to decipher urgent contemporary issues.

Crucially, my experiences this summer encouraged me to check in with the idea of embodying the terms versatile and humanist. Working at UNC Press brought me up close to the vital role academic presses play in supporting the scholarship needed to decipher urgent contemporary issues. For example, two of the works featured in my podcast series, Jane Hong’s Opening the Gates to Asia: A Transpacific History of How America Repealed Asian Exclusion and Magdalena Marinari’s Unwanted: Italian and Jewish Mobilization Against Restrictive Immigration Laws (1882-1965), help readers (or listeners) understand how everyday Americans actively shaped American policy, legislative choices, and basic underlying assumptions about what constitutes legal immigration.

By publishing and promoting such historical research on the origins and impact of American immigration regulation, UNC Press deepens public understandings about immigration policy and its potential repercussions for people living today. Through their various endeavors supporting authors doing important work such as Hong and Marinari, UNC Press showed me enumerable examples of what versatile, impactful legal history can look like.

The structure of the internship helped me keep track of all that I was learning throughout the summer. In addition to developing the UNC Press podcast series, I learned an incalculable number of new things about how a university press operates. My supervisor Gina Mahalek was exceptionally proactive in involving me in a variety of the press’s operations. For example, I attended meetings where press employees discussed why books should be published, which audiences they might appeal to, and how they could be marketed.

As I experienced life at a press through my work duties and observing others, I also benefitted from my interactions with other Versatile Humanist interns. Our monthly, facilitated discussions helped me to reflect upon what I was doing well, what I was enjoying about my work, and what I might take away from the experience. My fellow interns provided windows into their experiences navigating various types of workplaces and inspired me with their creative projects and means of bringing these projects to life. Additionally, taking notes throughout the internship and preparing to write a final reflection helped me keep track of what I was learning and how I felt about various career angles presented to me while working at the press.  Conversations with peers and personal written reflection thus enhanced my internship experience, and helped me integrate it into a larger, still-evolving narrative of my professional development.

While writing a research paper this past semester, I’ve already seen how the ideas I absorbed through a thorough engagement with UNC Press works has influenced my own scholarship…

Carefully designed internship opportunities can be a fantastic mode through which graduate students grow, thrive, and develop important skills that will help them in their academic careers and beyond. The most significant things I will carry forward as my career progresses are the relationships my summer experiences facilitated. My interactions with the other Versatile Humanist interns allowed me to build inspiring friendships and working relationships with other graduate students across humanities disciplines. Conversations with the other interns have already introduced me to exciting strategies for integrating research with teaching and public outreach. I expect to continue being inspired by my fellow interns as we continue on together as Duke graduate students.

I also built wonderful relationships at UNC Press with people who both guided me and served as models for how I would like to be as a teacher and mentor. Furthermore, the scholarly exchanges I witnessed at UNC Press among authors, editors, and publicists provided me with a model of professionalism that I hope to carry forward in my own career. It was exhilarating to see vigorous intellectual discourse channeled towards producing and disseminating topnotch scholarship.

Finally, the podcast series itself enabled me to meet many experts in my field and to learn about their work. The process of creating the podcasts, which included carefully reading the featured books to craft interview questions, led me to deeply commune with important works in my field. The chance to have conversations with authors about these works solidified my understanding of these works even further. While writing a research paper this past semester, I’ve already seen how the ideas I absorbed through a thorough engagement with UNC Press works has influenced my own scholarship, and I expect to continue to benefit from that experience as I progress in my career as a scholar, teacher, and professional.

To check out some of the work I completed this summer you can view my Q&A with UNC Press author Lana Povitz on her book “Stirrings: How Activist New Yorkers Ignited a Movement for Food Justice” here or my podcasts here.

Note: Starting in 2020, funding for self-created doctoral student internships will available, on a competitive basis, through GSTEG (Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants). If you have questions about these opportunities, or about how you might create an internship to complement your academic research, you may contact Dr. Maria LaMonaca Wisdom, Director of Graduate Student Advising for the Humanities (