Internships are effectively an immersion in the work and lifestyle associated with your dream job. They are usually voluntary (or low paid), entry level and can involve living on site. Sometimes internships can help you work towards a qualification.
But the bottom line: internships are great – and they look GREAT on your CV and are a wonderful, sustained way to:
- Build your practical skills and experience in the field,
- Gain exposure and insight into the organization you intern for, and
- Put you first in line to step into a paid position following the conclusion of your internship.
This is why they are a fantastic way to “get your foot in the door” when starting out your journey towards your dream job in wildlife conservation which is why landing an internship is a top 10 step.
Both in Australia and abroad, there are many organisations that run fantastic internship programs. Whether you are a student, finishing up your course or not sure whether or not to study, it is always worth throwing your hat in the ring.
In this blog post we will cover:
- When to apply for an internship
- What to look for in an internship program
- Some organisations you can intern with
When to apply for an internship
While I didn’t do my internship until after I finished my Bachelor degree, in hindsight, I wish I had started looking into them and applying sooner. Sooner as in while I was still studying.
You can apply for an internship ANY time although you will often be more likely to receive these roles earlier in your career – this is because internships are much more tailored to building skills that bridge the gap between initial study courses (i.e. certificate iii or iv in land management from TAFEs or a Bachelor degree in ecological science, sometimes with Honours) and the work force.
So, if you fall within this niche – that period between study and work – an internship is perfect for you!
What to look for in an internship
First of all, look at the (for want of a better word) “prestige” of the organization and the type of organization. Those that are more “recognized” such as government departments and well known not-for-profits are good places to start.
Look at the skills and experiences you are expected to attain during the internship. If this isn’t detailed in the application, you can always give them a call to find out. Not only will getting in touch demonstrate your interest and initiative, it will also help your name to stand out when your application comes through.
Look at the logistics: the location, the length, the number of interns at a time, the inclusions and the details. Is accommodation provided? Are any costs such as travel or relocation reimbursed? Does it cost anything? You can also have a look at the expected outcomes of the program. Will you receive a job, a reference, a certificate?
Every program is different so it is worth shopping around for those that suit your goals, your passions and your lifestyle.
Some organisations to intern with
In Australia, state or territory departments in primary industries, forestry, water, wildlife and the environment all offer internship or “graduate” programs to students. Although competitive, these positions often lead to paid entry-level roles within these environmental departments. These internships won’t cost you any money and are usually city-based.
Australian Wildlife Conservancy
an Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) is an independent, not-for-profit wildlife conservation organization with several field-based ecology internships available each year in various regions of Australia.
As far as these internships go, these internships are highly regarded within the industry. They are often physically challenging and provide experience in remote living, survey methods, wildlife handling and identification.
AWC Internships won’t cost you any money and usually pay a “stipend” or allowance for the duration of your stay. These placements are usually highly competitive and so volunteering with the organization is a great way to stand out in your application. For more information, see this link.
Arid Recovery is an independent reserve near Roxby Downs in outback South Australia. With a small team and a series of feral-proof fenced areas, this property is a great place to intern. You will get incredible mentoring, remote living experience as well as experience handling and surveying threatened species. Arid Recovery internships won’t cost you any money and provide accommodation for you on site for the duration of the program. For more information, see this link.
Conservation Ecology Centre
Conservation Ecology Centre is an independent conservation property at Cape Otway near the Grampians and the Great Ocean Road of Victoria. They take on 2 intakes of 2 interns for 3 months each year. This internship has many opportunities including survey work, habitat restoration, visitor engagement and contact with threatened species. For more information, see this link.
Bush Heritage is another larger, independent, not-for-profit conservation organization which also provides field-based internship programs. A large focus of Bush Heritage is habitat restoration and threatened species survey work. Internships provide paid opportunities to recent graduates to assist with career development in office- or field-based roles.
The website suggests you should reach out to Bush Heritage with an expression of interest, rather than waiting for an advertised position – so what are you waiting for!? For more information, see this link.
If zoo keeping and captive breeding are more your interest, some leading zoos in Australia such as Taronga Zoo and Perth Zoo also offer “graduate programs”, “work experience”, “internships” – whatever they’re calling it, you can go for it – knowing it will set you in good stead for a career in this industry.
There are plenty of organisations offering overseas wildlife conservation experiences listed as an internship. While many of these are wonderful, live-in experiences with exotic species and global networking opportunities, keep in mind that many of these require you to pay – so check what is included in the price. Don’t let this put you off though – there are some phenomenal projects that provide an excellent experience in hands-on conservation and ask for a minimal funding towards your food and board.
As a graduate starting out, one of the best experiences you can have is to receive overseas experience – it certainly shows you have plenty of transferable skills such as organization, resilience and many more.
Organisations that DON’T usually provide internships
Universities are unlikely to provide internships and one of the best pathways to get yourself into research is to go through the universities themselves as you work towards a PhD. There is often work available along the way in undergraduate teaching or laboratory or field assistance so keep an ear open for those.
Ecological consultancies don’t usually provide internships – but they do offer entry-level graduate positions from time to time so keep your eyes open for those.
Applying for an internship is a great first step for graduate ecologists in wildlife conservation. Although there is no set “career pathway” to follow in this industry, an internship is usually recognized by employers as a sustained contribution where you will learn lots of new skills and usually have an incredible experience.
Take it from me – my internship was hands down one of THE most incredible experiences of my career. And, let’s be honest, it helps you kick goals at the “other end” when you translate your experience into meaningful employment.
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