My Met Internship and COVID-19

By Rose O’Neill, FCLC 2021

Click here for Rose’s exciting new discoveries while interning at the Met

On March 12, 2020, I sat in an office at The Metropolitan Museum of Art as it was announced that the museum would close due to concerns about the outbreak of COVID-19.  My jaw dropped; I hadn’t expected that, though perhaps I should have.  The day before, I had packed a suitcase for three weeks away from campus and left my McMahon apartment.  The closing of The Metropolitan Museum of Art suddenly made the pandemic seem much more significant. Up until that point I had interpreted university shut-downs as a method of proceeding cautiously for the sake of the students, not as an action absolutely necessary for public health.

Departing from the museum that day gave me an odd feeling.  I wiped my desk down with Lysol, just in case I had the disease and was asymptomatic, so the custodial crew would not get infected.  Interns were instructed to take all personal belongings out of the office.  The only thing I usually kept at the office was a coffee mug.  It didn’t really fit into my bag, and I considered just leaving it, as I thought I would be back soon, and it would be annoying to have to hold it on the subway and ferry during my commute home.  

At that point, I thought it likely that I could be back in the office a week later.  On the subway, only a few people wore masks.  I called my mother during the commute and talked about how my friends and I had been thinking of going to an amusement park, and how the next few weeks while universities were closed might be a good time to do so.  It all sounds so naïve and laughable now.  The following week, I was constantly checking my email to find out when the internship program could resume.  I soon found out that I would not be able to return to my internship duties this spring.  

Just because I couldn’t be in the office didn’t mean that my learning as an intern stopped, however.  Though my position did not have me complete work remotely, my education within the internship program still continued.  Every Friday, the available interns would meet with Met Education virtually and hear speakers from different departments in the museum.  We were invited to introduce ourselves and ask questions, and most speakers shared their email addresses in case we had follow-up questions about their work after the meeting.  

Internships are intended to be a time of learning through experience and exposure, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art Internship Program finds a good balance between productive work for the museum and educational enrichment.  I’ve heard from friends about other internships in which companies focus on what the intern can provide for them, however, my experience with The Met showed me that the museum expects its interns to gain as much from the experience as they give to it.