The Columns

Interns At Work: Michael Sullivan Michael Sullivan spent his summer interning at the Cultural Heritage Institute of the Netherlands in Amsterdam

— by on November 29th, 2016

Hometown: Laurel, MD
Major: Biochemistry
Minors: Poverty and Human Capability Studies
Organization Name: Cultural Heritage Institute of the Netherlands
Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands

What attracted you to this internship?
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to study medicine and be a doctor. When you follow the Pre-Med track, however, it can feel a bit rigid in expectations. Many of your courses are selected for you, and there are certain kinds of extracurricular activities you feel obligated to pursue, such as spending summers shadowing doctors or volunteering at a hospital. When I heard about the opportunity to study art conservation in Amsterdam, I was thrilled about the prospect of doing something outside the normal “Pre-Med” experience. I have always wanted to study abroad, which is hard to do for a semester as a biochemistry major. This internship has allowed me to spend 3 months abroad in the Netherlands, giving me the chance to have that experience.

How did you learn about it?
I approached Dr. Uffelman about internship opportunities back in September, and he mentioned he might be able to get me a spot interning under Dr. Bill Wei at the Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed (Cultural Heritage Institute of the Netherlands).

What gave you an edge in landing this internship?
Dr. Uffelman’s recommendation was the only thing that allowed me to land this internship. Without his help, I would never have been able to get in touch with my advisor here, and I am very thankful to him for his help throughout the whole process. I am also thankful for the Washington and Lee community that allowed me to form a relationship with my professor where I can get that kind of help. It has truly opened up the opportunity of a lifetime for me.

Describe your daily duties.
I typically come into work and do some combination of literature reviews, research for my projects, and writing reports for my boss. Every week, I am given a half day off and asked to go to a museum and write a report about my experience as well.

What are some tasks/projects you’ve been workmen on?
For my first project, I am using Photoshop to retouch a painting that has been discolored, and then I am trying to use a digital projector to “fix” the discoloration in the eyes of the viewer. My second task involves another painting that is experiencing crystal growth in the paint layer. I am trying to recreate this crystal growth so we can better understand what conditions lead to this problem.

Have any courses and/or professors helped you prepare for this internship? Which ones?
Dr. Uffelman’s courses have been integral in my preparation for this internship. Taking CHEM 156 during the winter and ARTH 356 for Spring Term Abroad, both with Dr. Uffelman, have given me the necessary introduction to conservation science that I need for this internship. In addition, my chemistry courses, especially Analytical and Organic Chemistry, have proven to be extremely useful for my internship.

What do you hope to learn by the end of your experience?
I hope to better understand how different colors on a painting appear to the human eye when shone with different colors of light. I also hope to learn more about what causes crystals to grow in paint, and what we can do to slow down this process.

What was your favorite part or perk of the internship?
The Cultural Heritage Institute of the Netherlands shares a building with the Rijksmuseum conservation labs, and we often work closely with Rijksmuseum conservation staff. As such, I have gotten to meet and work with international experts in the field of art conservation science.

What did you learn from living in the city where the internship was located?
Living in Amsterdam has taught me how to bike. Every day, my commute to work involves biking along the canals of Amsterdam and right through the middle of the Rijksmuseum. I have learned how to always appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. Amsterdam is a gorgeous city to live in, and sometimes I will go for a bike ride with the intention of getting lost just to see more of this amazing place.

What key takeaways/skills will you bring back to W&L?
I am learning a lot about how to reconcile science with the arts. For example, just because we can fix a discoloration with a digital projector, does that mean we necessarily should? Is the discoloration now a part of the artistic value of the object? An ability to grapple with these questions will be a key take away of my internship.

What advice would you give to students interested in a position like this?
My advice would be to use the W&L community to your advantage. Despite being a smaller school, W&L is boundless and by utilizing the connections I made through the university, I was able to land the internship of a lifetime.

Has this experience influenced your career aspirations? How so?
While I still intend to study medicine, I am interested in looking into the possibility of a gap year or two. I think it would be fascinating to live abroad in the Netherlands for an extended period of time and really get to be immersed by the culture here.

Describe your experience in a single word.
Inspiring.