Juliette Desportes

Digital image of Juliette Desportes


HEI: University of Glasgow

Host organisation: Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn – Galson Estate Trust

Duration of the internship: Three months full-time

In my PhD I research the ways production-driven attitudes to land and people shaped the eighteenth-century Scottish Highland landscape and the ways people reacted to these changes.

Why did you decide to undertake an internship?

As a PhD student, I have at times felt restricted in my ability to generate impact and have meaningful conversations beyond academia. Undertaking an internship gave me the chance to do both in an organization of my choosing. I have been interested in community ownership for years and felt excited at the prospect of witnessing how a dynamic community-run body such as the Galson Trust operates on a daily basis.

How did you plan your own internship?

I have been interested in land and policy for a while, and since I research the transformation of the Highlands and Islands landscape in the past, it made sense to pursue an internship with a community owned land trust to understand the exciting ways land can be managed in the present. I got in touch with Galson Trust thanks to the recommendation of other researchers and after making contact with Galson Trust, they immediately agreed to take me on.

What was your internship and what did you do?

My internship was with the Galson Estate Trust, a community-owned land trust which manages 56,000 acres on behalf of the estate’s population in the Isle of Lewis.

As an intern, my primary job was to research the history of the estate in a way that would be accessible to a wide audience, bringing light to important events that have so far been under-researched.

The heart of the project was to help prepare for the upcoming centenary celebrations of the re-settlement of Galson. In the nineteenth century, the village of Galson was cleared to make way for sheep during what is now known as the Highland Clearances. In 1923, the township was finally re-settled thanks to new government legislation and local protest happening in the 1880s and again in 1920s. These events are not well-know either by academics or the general public, and I spent a lot of my time in archives identifying relevant materials and collecting evidence. I also communicated my findings through a series of blog posts published on the Trust’s website and organized a free workshop for anyone interested in pursuing archival research.

As the Trust prepares for the upcoming centenary celebration of the village’s re-settlement in 2023-4, my research will be available to use to plan various talks and exhibits celebrating the community’s past and looking to its future.

Image showing the landscape of Galson Estate
Galson Estate

What aspects of the internship did you find most rewarding?

Doing research that has the potential to serve a community felt very rewarding. While PhD research can be lonely at times, I appreciated the chance of working in an office surrounded by lovely people and observing first-hand how a community can manage land for the benefit of all.

Has the internship influenced your future plans at all?

The internship definitely reinforced the idea that there are other careers out there for me beyond academia. I would definitely like to work for a community land trust again, either in a community-development role or perhaps in policy making.

On a more personal level, I enjoyed the opportunity to live in the Highlands and Islands, which has been an ambition of mine for a while. Doing an internship in Lewis gave me the chance to try it out for a few months. I liked it so much I have since permanently relocated!

What are some of the skills you have picked up or improved through the internship?

I have improved my communication skills, especially my ability to make historical research accessible to all. Writing blog posts encouraged me to develop a different type of writing-style which I particularly enjoyed.

Do you have any tips for researchers looking to do an internship?

Come prepared: Make sure to think about the ways you can adopt your existing research practices to a new working environment. The transition from PhD research to an internship has the potential to be unsettling at first, and I was glad I had taken the time to think about my project before it properly started.

Be flexible: it is likely your project and/ or role will change in the course of the internship. I found I had to regularly re-assess what my aims were and what was realistically achievable in a short time frame.

Just do it! I would strongly recommend doing an internship, it has helped me re-think so many of my research practices and gave me the motivation I needed to finish off the thesis.

Where can people find out more?

SGSAH; SGSAH ResearchTwitter: @JulietteDespor1
Galson Trust has a great website: https://www.galsontrust.com/
And social media: @UrrasOG

This article was published on 4 August 2022.
Last update was on 31 January 2023.