Choosing to pursue an internship for credit is a great way to gain field, lab, or general career experience, explore your interests, and add to your CV or resume! Start your planning early!
One student’s amazing experience…
Interning at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge!
My name is Erica Roberts and I am currently working as a Wildlife Biology and Outreach intern at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Gulf Shores, AL. I’m living out my Wildlife Biology dreams! I am one of two interns who are here for a total of 7 months sponsored by the American Conservation Experience (ACE) in their EPIC program. With only 5 months left, I have already gained a multitude of valuable experiences, skills, and knowledge.
First, and probably most exciting for me, we as interns are tasked with completing “turtle patrol” each morning. Due to the pandemic we are unable to complete UTV training. So instead of driving the various sections of beach we, along with volunteers, are walking the entire refuge’s beaches in search of sea turtle tracks. These tracks are sometimes just a “false crawl,” meaning the sea turtle came up in hopes of nesting, but for whatever reason she decided to turn around and retreat to the ocean without nesting. We have had 5 false crawls on the refuge so far this year. Other times, if we’re lucky, the sea turtle nests! We then take steps to locate the eggs, place a predator screen, signs, and flagging tape on/around the nest for protection from predators as well as humans. We have had 5 nests so far, and none have had to be moved. Moving nests would only occur if the nest was within the “daily high tide line” and in immediate danger of being inundated or washed out. The nests will hatch after an ~60 day incubation period, at which time we will get to monitor the hatchlings to make sure as many of them make it to the water as possible! Our most frequent species on the refuge are Loggerhead sea turtles and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles. It seems to be a slow year in terms of nests at this point, but has picked up with four new nests in the past week!
We have also been involved in the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvaging Network, personally participating in two salvages of both a Loggerhead and a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle found deceased on the beaches.
Another valuable experience was our Alabama beach mouse surveys. We would set out Sherman live traps behind dunes in a grid during the daytime (the beach mice are nocturnal, so wouldn’t be in the traps all day). We would then go out at around 2 AM to check the traps. If an AL beach mouse was found, we would tag it, determine the sex and sex characteristics (scrotal, lactating, etc.), weigh it, and then release it. The Alabama beach mouse is a federally endangered species with its main threat being habitat destruction from development along the shorelines. Bon Secour NWR is the largest intact and undisturbed Alabama beach mouse habitat left.
We also get to help one of our most dedicated volunteers with her shorebird surveys. We have helped her locate/check on ground nests and chicks for birds such as the state-listed Snowy Plover and the Least Tern.
Last week, we also got the chance to help prepare for and host a visit from the Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt. He came to visit the refuge and learn more about an ongoing marsh planting project of which we were able to participate in during the days following his visit. He helped us “break ground” on the planting of 4,000 black needle rush plants along the shore of Little Lagoon.
There are so many other valuable skills I am learning like operating heavy machinery used at wildlife refuges, managing a federal Facebook page and creating engaging posts during a pandemic, and so much more. Getting to experience this internship while continuing my education is the absolute best use of my time, and I’m so thankful for the ability to learn so much from online classes that goes directly along with what I am doing in the field.
Students have also interned with:
- National Ecological Observatory Network
- Florida Wildlife Corridors
- Mote Marine Lab
- U.S. Department of State Pathways Program
- Miami Zoo
- National Tiger Sanctuary
- Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center
The intern program at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute provides an opportunity for college students and postgraduates to obtain hands-on experience in fish and wildlife sciences and related fields. Check out the opportunities for 2021!
Interested in federal government work in the future?
Check out the Pathways Internship Program!
INTERNSHIP EXPERIENCE PROGRAM (IEP)
Interns in this program are appointed to non-temporary, excepted service appointments, expected to last the length of the academic program for which the intern is enrolled. IEP participants, while in the program, are eligible for noncompetitive promotions if they meet the developed qualification standards for the position. IEP interns are also eligible for federal employee benefits (e.g. life, health, and retirement). IEP participants are eligible for noncompetitive conversions to the competitive service within 120 days of program completion.
INTERNSHIP TEMPORARY PROGRAM (ITEP)
The temporary nature of the ITEP allows for interns to work during seasonal and holiday breaks in academic programs as well as year-round. Interns in this program are appointed to temporary appointments, not to exceed one year or their projected graduation date (whichever is shorter) and extensions may be made in one year increments. The positions to which the interns are appointed have no promotion potential, therefore, students must apply through USAJOBS to be considered for higher-graded positions. ITEP participants who are expected to work 130 hours per month or more for at least 90 days will be eligible to enroll in a health benefits plan. ITEP participants are not eligible for any other benefits until after conversion into the competitive service. ITEP participants are eligible for noncompetitive conversions to the competitive service within 120 days of completion of the Pathways Program.
One WFSC student’s experience with the Pathways Program
“The Pathways Program has opportunities in federal agencies country-wide and the job descriptions and expectations are incredibly varied. I would highly recommend it to other students for the great specialized experience, but also because there are some more general benefits when applying and participating in the program.
Applicants must either be students or recent graduates (less than 2 years past graduation) to be considered. Pathways jobs can still be highly competitive, but since it is strictly for students and recent graduates, being in good academic standing or having some working experience beyond education is enough to get past HR and get an interview, which can be challenging for other entry level federal jobs that still attract far more experienced candidates.
Another significant feature of the Pathways Program is the internship opportunities are paid with benefits. I haven’t perused every internship posting out there, but this seems like an anomaly to me. Compared to my last internship, which paid such a small stipend for full-time work that they showed us how to apply for food stamps during orientation, it is a relief to be paid a normal wage and be insured while also gaining valuable internship experience. I got some great advice from a fellow student in the Wildlife Forensic Sciences program that might be worth sharing with other students that consider applying to the Pathways program. Her advice was to think outside the box as far as agencies are concerned, because the experience offered does not always match up with the department or agency you would expect. Sometimes USFWS is looking for IT or accounting students, and I definitely did not expect to be working for the Department of Defense when I started looking. I have also previously seen a couple of postings for a recent graduate Pathways opportunity for a wildlife investigator with USFWS, so it could be a great opportunity to get a foot in the door in a highly selective department.”
Many are available over the course of a semester, or, if not, offered through a summer opportunity. Typically, forensic science internships like these are found through the crime labs of state or regional police departments and law enforcement agencies. However, if there is not one listed for a particular state or region, don’t be afraid to call regional police departments and similar agencies to see what might be available. Just because it is not listed here, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!