Three Weeks in Australia: What Studying Abroad Taught Me about Working Full-Time and Getting the Most out of My LIS Education

Three Weeks in Australia: What Studying Abroad Taught Me about Working Full-Time and Getting the Most out of My LIS Education

by Natalie M. Parker

I started my degree at SLIS with no experience as an information professional while working full-time in a non-LIS field.  Whether you are making a career change or building experience in this field, the advice is always the same: network, network network!  Make those connections!  It is critical to career success in this field.

I used to struggle with this notion and tried to understand how to make these connections when much of my time away from work is taken up by my course load.  Sure, I have transferrable skills at my job that will serve me well in the LIS world; but where are those connections and LIS experiences?

This summer, I completed a three-week study abroad course in Australia with the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee’s School of Information Studies (UWM SIS).  The topic was “Australian Contributions to Archival Theory and Practice.”  I jumped at the chance to: 1) study abroad; 2) take an opportunity that was archives-focused; and 3) have an opportunity to do this while not having to quit my job.

The Program

How do you get a full semester’s worth of work into three weeks?  Full-time coursework.  The bulk of the program centered around site visits to various repositories in Melbourne.  We would spend a couple of hours at each place learning about the institution and asking questions.  At the end of the day, we discussed what we learned and submitted journal entries.  Over the three weeks, we visited 13 sites, had class meetings, submitted seven journal entries, completed an essay on the Records Continuum, and had a smattering of free time to explore.  Being archives students, a lot of our free time was spent exploring even more cultural institutions.

The instructors were thoughtful to arrange visits in a variety of places.  We visited universities, a community archive, museums, corporate archives, a religious archive, a sports archive, libraries, the Public Records Office, and more.  A highlight of our visit was a day spent with faculty and staff at Monash University, the center of thinking about the Records Continuum. 

I left Melbourne not only with an acute knowledge of Australian archival theory and practice, but with some new friends, and with a renewed sense of how to make the most of my LIS education back home.

The Importance of Site Visits

I was struck by how gracious our hosts were at each institution and how frank they were about sharing information with us.  Many of these visits grew out of our program organizer “cold emailing” and asking if they would accept a visit.  We learned so much about the highlights and the struggles of each institution’s work, how the archivist fit in with the organization, how they came to get their job, and how the Australian Series System and the Records Continuum could be used in practice.  They were also eager to show us their “good stuff,” those items in their collections of high value or amusing nature.  A few of them even welcomed us to ask about internships or work experience if we were ever in the Melbourne area again.

Network, network, network.  In such a short time, I built a vast network of information professionals in Melbourne.  It is this experience that made me realize I should duplicate it at home. 

While I can’t take extended time off work, I can visit more institutions and start asking questions of information professionals.  Most of our visits in Melbourne lasted only a couple of hours, yet I was able to meet some phenomenal people eager to assist in my education.  The lesson?  When opportunities for site visits arise, I need to go even if I am not sure if it directly relates to my goals.  Furthermore, I need to make my own opportunities and start visiting sites on my own!

Learning from Other LIS Students

An unexpected gain from this trip was the opportunity to interact with other LIS students and faculty.  Our group was made up of nine students:  two of us from SLIS and seven from UWM.  We had a faculty member and an assistant from UWM who led our visits and discussions. 

Each person had a unique background both as it relates to LIS and life experience.  It was illuminating to understand how they are pursuing their degrees, what their coursework and degree requirements are like, and what their goals are.

UWM’s School of Information Science has an Alternative Spring Break program.  The school solicits institutions from all over the country to host graduate students and provide project work for a week.  This is a unique way to provide connections and work experience for LIS students, especially within a manageable time period.  I am exploring whether I can make this type of experience happen informally with one of my local institutions.

Coming Home

The last thing I did before I left Australia was to register for a site visit at Mills College back home with SJSU ALASC.  At Mills, I met some very interesting people, and learned a great deal about the institution in a short period of time.  True to my experience in Australia, the people at Mills were very gracious hosts and made the visit very meaningful.  Although I did not expect it, I ended up making a very useful career connection.

How do I make meaningful connections with classmates like I did this summer?  I set up Facebook groups for each of my classes so I can connect with my classmates outside of D2L.  It is not perfect, but it is a start.

Network, network, network.  Excel at coursework.  Be meaningful at your day job.  For those of us with many commitments, doing all this is very possible.  Do not be afraid to ask people about their work.  Think about how to fit these experiences in with your education.  Be creative!



Natalie Parker is midway through her SLIS career and is focusing on archives and information organization.  During the day, she works for a legal department at a large tech company in the Silicon Valley.