In search of the next generation of ecologists

By Denise Giles

February 2019

It is always with a sense of excitement that we sort through applications looking for the team of seasonal interns that will contribute to our research, monitoring and restoration efforts. After 10 years of contributing to this process, I am always invigorated by the interest and passion for the natural world that so many of the applicants express in their cover letters, as well as in their experiences. While some may have a degree in botany, or field experience from coursework or undergraduate research, others are just discovering their interest in the natural world after degrees in completely different fields. Each year, we hope that these internships will provide guidance for those interested in careers in botany, ecology, conservation, restoration and other natural resource fields.

Interns acquire skills in plant ID and various monitoring techniques, and each day provides hands on lessons in ecology as we monitor rare plants and assess habitat quality. Interns experience what it is like to collect field data, and are exposed to a variety of methodologies to ask (and hopefully contribute to answering) research questions related to rare plant monitoring and habitat management. As I return to sites over the years, my timeline is determined by the seasonal crew: “Well, we set up that Willamette Daisy plot with Andrew, Tobin, and Kelsey, so that was 2013,” goes my thought process.  “This is where Autumn and I saw a tick on a lizard; it was really rainy in 2011,” or “Lucy, Nadav, and Abbie helped plant those Kincaid’s lupine… so that was 2017.” The work of each years’ intern crew contributes to the whole of the projects they work on.

2017 intern crew members Lucy Keehn, Abbie Harold, and Nadav Mouallem

2012 intern crew monitoring Coos Bay North Spit for Point Reyes birdsbeak (Cordylanthus maritimus ssp. palustre) - clockwise from top: Charlotte Trowbridge, Denise Giles, Lisa VanTieghem, Guy Banner, Eduardo Ramirez, Erin Gray

2013 interns Andrew Heaston, Kelsey Copes-Gerbitz (now Raybould) and Tobin Weatherson plant Willamette daisy (Erigeron decumbens) in Eugene

Many of our interns go on to complete Master’s and PhDs in related fields, and have brought their experiences at IAE to work for government agencies, land trusts, conservation districts, and regional non-profits. Some have become educators, artists, and small business owners. These internships provide career experiences, but also a chance to see rare and endangered plants and visit rare and beautiful habitats. These shared life experiences contribute to lasting friendships developed in long car rides to field sites, over lunches taken in shady groves, in dips in a cool river after long field days, and in silly field jokes.  “How does an old fern start his stories? Bracken the day...” or “What did the stamen say to the stigma? I like your style.”

With spring in the air, I am excitedly looking forward to hiring and meeting this year’s intern crew, and to watch them sharpen their field skills, create memories and make lasting relationships with people and plants in 2019. Come next February, we will again seek a new season of interns by posting applications on our Jobs page.

Featured photo is of the 2018 Erigeron monitoring crew, left to right: Jillian Demus, Amy Zimmer, Chelsea Osbron, Zade Clark-Henry, and crew leader Marissa Mancillas.

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