February 27, 2023

Christopher Queen and Brandy Lewis were the first two SCUA graduate student interns and both of their experiences provide excellent examples of how these internships can benefit students and enhance their academic and professional goals. 

The UCR Library’s Special Collections & University Archives (SCUA) is known for its vast collections of books, manuscripts, photographs, and other rare research material. UCR students pursuing graduate studies were provided a unique opportunity to explore these treasures up close and gain valuable experience through SCUA’s first graduate student internship program.  

Christopher is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English whose research focuses on 14th and 15th-century Middle English literature

“When your work involves rare materials or delicate materials, it's not easy to gain access to those items,” Christopher explained. “It's not something that you necessarily see or get to interact with every day.” 

The beginning of Christopher’s internship was exploratory. He spent time learning how archives work, how items are documented and stored, and spent time walking around the stacks discovering what was in the collection.   

Christopher appreciated the time familiarizing himself with the space and the collection and was happy to have the opportunity to fine-tune the proposal he submitted for the internship based on his discoveries in the archive.  

Once settled into the space, Christopher was able to find items he never expected.  

“SCUA has really wonderful, idiosyncratic examples of The Canterbury Tales," Christopher said. “One of them is a collection of prints by an artist named Ron King. That wasn’t what I was looking for originally, but that was the wonderful thing about the internship, finding things I wouldn’t have necessarily found otherwise.” 

One of the biggest things Christopher took away from the internship was a bigger sense of confidence.  

“I went to England this past summer to work with some materials in libraries there. Having this experience made me more confident about interacting with other libraries' materials, interacting with librarians and staff, and not being afraid to ask questions.” 

Christopher has some advice for graduate students who may be interested in applying the next time applications are open but aren’t sure if SCUA has the right material for them.  

“Even if you don't think that what you're doing is related to what special collections has, you should still apply,” Christopher said. “At first, I was actually hesitant to apply myself, because we don't have a large collection of Middle English literature, but once I was able to start actually looking through what we did have, I knew there was value for me there.” 

Brandy Lewis is also a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English, but her research focuses on fandom and fanzines.  

Brandy was familiar with SCUA and the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy before the internship. She went to UCR as an undergraduate student and had the opportunity to do a book review for the late Fred Patten’s Furry Fandom Conventions and spent time with the Eaton Collection which houses the Fred Patten Papers.  

“As an undergrad, I thought this is great, but a little overwhelming,” Brandy said. “But coming back as a graduate student, it gave me a lot more time to sit with the materials and have a little bit more fun.” 

Brandy enjoyed the freedom and flexibility that came with the internship and found herself thinking in ways she never had before.   

“Originally, I had not been a print and manuscript scholar, I was very much into studying literature and looking at the words on the page,” Brandy said. “Yet handling the materials and getting a chance to sit with the bends of the page, the smudge marks — it’s a completely different experience.” 

Brandy continued, “I was able to sit in the space and ask myself, what does the page offer? The experience entirely changed my dissertation because it opened a new frame of thought I never touched on before.” 

The internship experience ended up being more emotional than Brandy could have ever imagined.  

“As a first-generation student and as a disabled student, years ago I would have never thought that I would get a chance to sit with material considered science fiction history,” Brandy said. “The experience really allowed me to say It's okay to feel geeky, it's okay to feel, what I feel. That's what makes me me. Even though the experience is academic and a learning experience, for me it was also a personal growth experience.”