By Michel Wiman
Look through any science or land management job board and these words will be there, usually in the Minimum Qualifications section. The experience required for most permanent land management and ecology positions often includes field techniques and real-life data collection. So what’s a recent graduate to do for on-the-job experience in the natural sciences? Real field experience, skill-building, and mentorship are the needs that Institute for Applied Ecology has filled for around 200 alumni in nearly 20 years of our Internship Program.
Let’s face it: permanent jobs managing natural resources, pollinators, and wildlife can be few and far between. Hands-on training is critical to ensuring that recent graduates obtain skills and experience needed to get a permanent job, and can be difficult to obtain in a four-year college degree. Perhaps more than ever, scientists also need the skills to communicate their findings to the general public. Our future depends on ensuring that the U.S. has skilled workers for solving difficult challenges in ecosystem science and climate health. IAE’s interns experience real-world field ecology, data collection and entry, monitoring techniques, and project assessment, and are given opportunities to convey what they’ve learned.
Mentors that not only teach field ecology skills, but guide and offer support to interns can be even harder to find for early-career scientists. IAE provides its interns with opportunities to meet with professionals, develop research interests, and investigate areas of graduate study and career paths. This mentorship gives immeasurable resiliency to young people who may be otherwise tempted to find a job outside of ecology and natural sciences. IAE Internship Program staff lead professional panels, curriculum vitae workshops, and mock-interview activities, with other IAE leaders meeting and talking with interns during their season at IAE. We’ve queried past IAE interns, and heard how the program has helped them: “IAE was instrumental in furthering my career…the experience provided me with botany, ecology, and field work skills that have allowed me to feel ahead of the job market for my age,” said Kyle S. of his 2016 season. “My internship at IAE helped to demonstrate my commitment to scientific inquiry, Serai C. told us.” And Conor B., ’08, said “The positive attitude and capability of the IAE staff were motivating and inspirational.”
To convey their work to the community, IAE staff and interns hosted an Intern Showcase at the Corvallis Arts Center as the interns wrapped up their field season. Each intern prepared a poster presentation, and IAE members and supporters were invited to come see and interact with them about what they’ve learned. On a very warm July night, dozens of supporters gathered to hear an overview of the program and ask questions directly of the 2019 interns. “This is their event, and a chance to show everyone the skills they gained at IAE, and where they’d like to go next,” says Matt Bahm, IAE Conservation Research Program Director and Internship Program lead. “This is their opportunity to share their experiences.”
The interns showcased work they’d done, experiences they’d had, and what they learned during their season at IAE. Intern Eva Brod presented an “Interspecies Relationships” poster about native plants and their insect hosts. Golden paintbrush project interns Rose Parham and Erica Hunter presented about how they surveyed this threatened species. Cia Crowe bridged art and science in her poster, titled “Who Said Science and Art Don’t Go Together?” And Rachel Livingston presented a poster on her season as a seed collection intern. Guests were intrigued, and great conversations were had over refreshments in the beautiful Arts Center gallery.
IAE is training the next generation of ecologists to steward our natural areas into the future, and you can become involved. Please consider a donation to our Internship Program. Funds will go directly to support enrichment activities, including the intern showcase poster session, botanical and pollinator identification training, opportunities to network with local science and natural resource professionals, curriculum vitae building, mock interviews, and guidance for pursuing graduate school. If you’d like more information or to donate, please visit our Internship Program webpage.