AWC offers opportunities for promising graduate students to gain valuable conservation field experience via our Internship Program. Intern, Abhi Aiyer, shares her experiences below.
When did you start your internship? How are you finding it?
My internship with the North-East region started in late July, and I made the move from snowy Canberra to tropical Cairns. I have loved every moment of my internship and it has been incredibly special to explore such varied habitats across Queensland – from rainforests to semi-arid landscapes during my travels to AWC sanctuaries.
I’ve had the opportunity to survey many endangered native species up close including Palm Cockatoos (Probosciger aterrimus) and Northern Bettongs (Bettongia tropica). I am really excited to dig into the results of these projects and see how populations are doing. It has also been wonderful to build confidence in the field and engage critically with other scientists. There’s no better place to do so.
How did you hear about AWC’s science program?
My Honours supervisor was an AWC intern in 2010, and when I was completing Honours fieldwork she encouraged me to apply for the internship as a great way to further my skills. She had an amazing experience as an intern, and it has led her to a wonderful career in conservation and research.
It is really special to be able to say that the legacy has lived on, with me now completing my internship with AWC almost 13 years later and also having also gained so much from the opportunity.
What enticed you to apply?
After some exposure to working in Government after my undergraduate studies, specifically in an environmental field it was wonderful to admire AWC from this broader perspective and see the impact of our work. I was really excited to apply and get back into fieldwork, explore new places and learn from wonderfully experienced ecologists.
What are your long-term goals in the science field?
I would love to continue to work in conservation, and to find a balance between on-ground conservation and policy; seeking to bridge the gap between both aspects of effective and meaningful environmental management. Working with Indigenous Ranger groups throughout this internship has reaffirmed my passion in engaging with Indigenous Peoples and ensuring that Indigenous perspectives are imbedded firmly into decision making.
I also have a keen passion for research and would like to venture into a PhD in the future; potentially with a project combining all these interests. There are so many challenges facing our natural environment, and this internship has taught me that the best thing you can do is be innovative and brave and try to make the biggest difference that we can.
What were some of your expectations going in?
I expected to be thrown head-first into fieldwork and also be surrounded by really supportive and encouraging ecologists. I was beyond excited to develop my fieldwork and ID skills and get exposed to species of fauna and flora I had never encountered before.
What were elements of the program have surprised you so far?
What surprised me most was the variety of work that AWC undertakes. Specifically in the North-East region, we have so many sanctuaries and land management partnerships that all have such different habitats and work programs. One week we were surveying macropods and birds at Bowra Wildlife Sanctuary; the other trapping bandicoots and bettongs in wet sclerophyll forests in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
It really goes to show that the reach and impact of AWC are far and wide, and the science teams have such a diversity of expertise and knowledge. I’m extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to play a small part in so many of these projects.
Have you completed any other science internships? If so, how does this one differ?
This is my first conservation-based internship, however, I have completed other research-based internships through the University of Sydney during my studies, and I completed a graduate program with the Federal Government prior to applying for this internship with AWC.
Every experience has been very different, however, this internship has been incredibly fun and I have found myself growing in so many ways as a scientist, naturalist and advocate.
Would you recommend it to others interested in science-led conservation and why?
I absolutely would. This internship has been absolute magic and I have explored places I would never get to see otherwise and been able to develop new skills and gain confidence as a field ecologist. It is a career highlight to be part of the AWC family and be able to tangibly and meaningfully contribute to conservation at an on-ground level.
I don’t think you need to be fresh out of university to apply. Whether you are looking for a career change, a different perspective or more skills – this internship is truly such a profound and tangible opportunity to do so.
Is there a unique moment in the internship so far that you’ve really enjoyed or that stood out as a moment you’ll always remember?
My first fieldwork trip began on my second day of the internship (definitely ticking the immersive experience box) to Piccaninny Plains Wildlife Sanctuary on the Cape York Peninsula. This trip was incredibly special for so many reasons, but I saw my first Palm Cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus), Long-tailed Planigale (Planigale ingrami) and Krefft’s glider (Petaurus notatus).
I’ll never forget finishing a Palm Cockatoo transect to find a female perfectly perched about 10m away on a deadfall tree. She seemed to be undisturbed by our presence. Our survey team sat on a mound of dirt in the bush and listened to her sing and preen for 20 minutes in complete awe and still silence. It was magnificent to see a Palmy in such unabashed glory and it was incredible that she let us watch her for so long. It was a little reminder that nature’s magic is all around us and that it is so important to save these species so they can sing for generations to come.
Little did I realise though that I had chosen to sit on top of a green ant nest…