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Interning at AAA

AAA intern Alika Johnston (H-B Woodlawn) reminisces about her time with the association:

My aunt was shocked upon learning that I accepted an unpaid internship this summer. “Don’t you know slavery ended in 1865?!” she cried. I laughed, describing how it would be a good experience with plenty of learning opportunities and the chance to discover what it’s like to work in a real, live office. My aunt cackled, telling me I’m “in for something, alright.”

As an intern at the AAA office in Arlington, Virginia, one can imagine I wasn’t doing much anthropology. I completed all the traditional intern tasks, such as filing and sorting papers and cleaning up Excel spreadsheets, but I managed to avoid the most clichéd task of all—fetching coffee. I’m not sure if I got the whole intern experience or not because of it. 

My internship mostly consisted of reading. I learned about hundreds of humanities and social science programs at universities as I collected their contact information, was introduced to anthropological research as I sorted journals, and was given a brief introduction to the history of AAA’s ethics code. I read anthropology blogs and newspapers almost every day, and combed the internet each morning for anything referencing the RACE project or the AAA. All of these assignments gave me the opportunity to learn about what it takes to be an anthropologist, how publishing research in journals works, the financial and intellectual rigor of attending college and the possible evolution of my career as I get older—the works.

I found the people here to be very pleasant and friendly, especially the secretaries, who had to buzz open the doors every time I went to the bathroom. Even though I try to drink two Nalgenes a day, they still let me in. I wasn’t so fond of my supervisor Damon when he teased me about my choice of footwear (or lack thereof). I’m fairly new to business casual, and my feet like to be free. I go to “Hippie High” and play ultimate Frisbee, so  of course I’m going to wear Birkenstocks.

Coming into this internship, my anthropological knowledge was quite limited, and I didn’t know much beyond it being the study of people. Anthropology was merely a practical application for my love of history and social philosophy, but, after spending just four weeks at the AAA, I’ve come to realize that anthropology doesn’t need to be a substitute for anything else. Instead of saying that I might be looking into anthropology, I can now say with some certainty that I want to be an anthropologist.

The AAA is deeply grateful for Alika’s contributions this summer, and we wish her the best of luck in her future studies.

2 Responses

  1. If you really enjoyed her work – and it seemed like she was doing more than shadowing the organization, but actually contributing – than you should really show your gratitude by compensating her.


    It’s the law:

    if the interns are engaged in the operations of the employer or are performing productive work (for example, filing, performing other clerical work, or assisting customers), then the fact that they may be receiving some benefits in the form of a new skill or improved work habits will not exclude them from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements because the employer benefits from the interns’ work.


  2. Unfortunately, that law only applies to for-profit companies, which the AAA is not. I find the # of unpaid internships astounding. Budgets are tight but that’s no reason to skimp out on those who are (or will be) undertaking massive amounts of debt.

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