To say the least, 2020 was a difficult year for everyone. In one way or another, we have all had to find new ways to adapt and navigate our everyday lives. As a graduate student, one of the big things I had to navigate was school, communicating with my classmates, and starting my internship. I interviewed to intern at The Healing Trust before the pandemic and I was super excited to begin my internship in-person.

I, admittedly, was in a bit of denial about working in person. Though I had finished my prior semester virtually, and the COVID-19 numbers were only increasing, my mind could not comprehend that I was going to have a virtual internship. I assumed that The Healing Trust would figure out a way for us to work in person safely. Disappointment set in once the staff confirmed that they were working remotely, and my internship would also be virtual. Though I was thankful that they were taking the virus and safety of their staff seriously, I was also bummed to find out that my internship was going to be virtual. I was convinced that I would miss out on a lot and that somehow my internship would not be as fruitful or as meaningful as I wanted it to be.

Fortunately, I was wrong about that.

As I now start my second and final semester at The Trust, I am happy to say that my disappointment was quickly dispelled, and I learned quite a bit during my virtual internship.

Here are five things I learned from having a virtual internship:

  1. Being virtual can create room for creativity to take ownership of and advocate for the skills, opportunities, and experiences that are important to you.

In many ways, being virtual enhanced my ability to engage with the work being done at The Trust. The elimination of travel meant I had more time to participate in site visits, meetings with legislators, and projects because participating only required a link.

I was also able to take ownership of my learning and internship in ways that I might have missed being in person. The team shared virtual opportunities with each other, which meant I had a menu of events, meetings, and webinars to choose from.  I felt empowered to choose what I wanted to engage with, the skills I wanted to learn, and how I wanted to spend my time.

2. Working virtually creates a great opportunity to create new self-care patterns and habits for future settings.

Experiencing your internship in comfy clothes while sitting on the couch is great until your home stops feeling like the haven you used to retreat to after work. I found myself struggling to feel like I could be done working since there was no mass exodus at the end of the day to signify that the workday was over.

I quickly learned that I needed to set boundaries and create new self-care patterns for working from home. It began with me designating spaces for work and rest and becoming more aware of expectations that were adding stress.  From the beginning, I established that my bedroom was a completely work-free zone, and I would work in the guest room.

I bought myself a $20 desk from Walmart and set it up by a window in our guest room. I also added an armchair, that I picked up at the Habitat Restore, for the days when I wanted a more comfortable seating option. Our guest bedroom officially became my office, and the rest of the house remained my place to unwind and rest when the workday was done. Putting these things in place was vital to taking care of myself during these chaotic times.

3. Be mindful of your schedule and do not fill your day with back-to-back meetings/webinars!

 Leave room in your schedule for you to not have to be “on” and engaged.  Being in front of a screen requires different levels of engagement, especially when you are on a video call with 10+ other people. I noticed early on that I would have headaches and be extra tired after a day of video calls.  Zoom Fatigue took over my body because I had not realized the pressure I felt to have the right posture, the correct background, or the need to keep an engaged expression on my face the entire time. On days that you can’t avoid multiple video calls, turn your camera off and be mindful of the places in your body where you hold tension. 

4. Connection with those you work with is possible in the virtual realm.

 Make it a priority to create time to do one-on-one check-ins with team members to get to know each other and learn how you can partner with them in their work. Weekly check-ins with individual staff have allowed me to be part of some big changes at The Trust and engage with community projects that I am super excited about. Even in the virtual realm, The Trust’s team has cultivated a work culture that operates with compassion, flexibility, encouragement, and trust. I have felt connected and part of the team since I started, I didn’t think would be possible.  

5. Ask questions.

Miscommunications in the virtual world are a real thing! Don’t be afraid to ask for help or ask for clarification when you don’t understand what is being asked of you.

It feels silly now to think back to how disappointed I was when I first began my internship.  There are many perks to the virtual internship setting that were hard to see coming into it, but it can be a great opportunity if you lean in.

How are you going to take ownership of your internship from the comfort of your own home?

Learn more about the internship program here.

Mabel Davis is a second-year student in the Social Work program at the University of Tennessee.  This is her second semester at The Healing Trust.