AWC offers opportunities for promising graduate students to gain valuable conservation field experience via our Internship Program. Current intern, Erin Barritt, shares her experiences below.
When did you start and complete your science internship at AWC? What did you study ahead of the internship?
I started my internship at Mt Gibson in early July, shortly after completing my Masters. In my first weeks I got stuck straight into post-release monitoring of the recently translocated Chuditch (Western Quoll). Since then, no two shifts have been the same and I’ve loved every minute of it. I’m learning new skills with every survey and still pinch myself that I get to be here – my only problem is it’s going by too quickly!
What are your long-term goals in the science field?
Ultimately, I see myself in a role that consolidates and develops my field skills with data analysis and report writing. I would love to continue contributing to science-led conservation programmes in Australia, particularly reintroductions. Entering the feral predator-free exclosure for the first time and observing threatened mammals thriving in a regenerating ecosystem really drives home the impact that conservation action can have. It’s been inspiring to collect data in the field and see it used to inform real action and I’d love to work in a role where I can participate in every stage of that process.
How did you hear about AWC’s science program?
I first heard about the science program when I moved to Australia in 2016, as a recent Zoology Hons graduate, searching for career development opportunities. Unfortunately, I didn’t have working rights and couldn’t apply at the time but, after five years, I gained permanent residency and returned to university with the goal of interning with AWC.
What enticed you to apply?
My previous field experience had been limited to short term volunteering opportunities between full time work and field courses and research projects at university. The internship presented an opportunity to dedicate six months towards honing my field skills and bridging gaps in my work experience, whilst gaining exposure to real world conservation action. I was keen to meet and learn from professional ecologists and apply myself to a role that fit with my values and interests. I’m incredibly grateful that AWC offers these internships to early career ecologists, as it’s rare to find such comprehensive early career development opportunities in conservation.
What were some of your expectations going in?
Moving across the country to live on a remote sanctuary where I didn’t know anyone, there were a lot of unknowns, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I chose to go in with an open mind and a positive attitude, ready to learn and experience as much as possible. Mt Gibson and the Southwest region have an amazing team, who made me feel welcome and settled from day one.
What were elements of the program have surprised you so far?
As a mature graduate, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of independence I’ve been afforded in conducting fieldwork. The team has been incredibly supportive in teaching new skills then trusting me to go out and implement them. I was also delighted to be assigned an intern project, taking over the release site camera monitoring of our translocated Chuditch and building a reference library to identify individuals. These opportunities to take ownership and actively contribute to the team’s workload have enhanced my experience and helped build confidence in my new skills.
Have you completed any other science internships? If so, how does this one differ?
This is my first science internship.
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?
The evening we trapped Dora, one of our translocated Chuditch, for a collar check to find she was carrying two spotty pouch young (Chudlets). When you’ve been closely tracking individuals for months, you feel like you get to know them, so it’s even more exciting to find evidence of successful breeding. I’m excited to see some new Chuditch on our cameras, when the next generation start leaving their dens.
Would you recommend it to others interested in science-led conservation and why?
100% – this has been the most inspiring and valuable experience and I’m so glad that I stuck to the goal I made seven years ago. Aside from the opportunity to visit amazing places and gain exposure to unique wildlife experiences, the internship is a great opportunity to network and learn from experienced ecologists. AWC internships are highly regarded, and I feel much more confident entering the job market with six months of comprehensive field experience under my belt. The experience has consolidated much of what I learned at university, and it has been really encouraging to see positive conservation outcomes firsthand.