AWC offers opportunities for promising graduate students to gain valuable conservation field experience via our Internship Program. Current intern, Gillian Kowalick, shares her experiences below.
When did you start your internship? How are you finding it?
I started my internship in August 2023 and have loved every minute so far! I have been fortunate enough to participate in several surveys at Yookamurra including the Bettong, Bilby and Numbat surveys, as well as the small mammal and reptile survey at Dakalanta. I’ve loved learning from experienced and passionate ecologists and being immersed in the work by living on sanctuary.
How did you hear about AWC’s science program?
I heard about AWC’s science program during my ecology degree at UNSW. I learnt about the work AWC does through discussions with my professors and fellow students. I also attended a conservation careers forum where an AWC ecologist gave a presentation about their day-to-day work. These conversations encouraged me to look into the internship program.
What enticed you to apply?
A key reason I applied was to gain hands-on conservation experience. I learnt lots of theory about wildlife and conservation during my degree, however, I wanted more field experience surveying these plants and animals! The idea of working with threatened and reintroduced species and seeing how our environments used to look was also a big drawcard. Finally, the large size of the organisation and its numerous sanctuaries across Australia enticed me to apply.
What were some of your expectations going in?
I was excited when I learned I would be based at Yookamurra Sanctuary and be living within the fenced area. I hadn’t spent much time in the Mallee environment before so was excited to explore. I was looking forward to spending several months working with experienced ecologists and learning new skills.
What are your long-term goals in the science field?
My broad long-term goals are to contribute to the conservation of Australia’s flora and fauna through working on the management and reintroduction of threatened species. In the future I would like to undertake post-graduate research, investigating knowledge gaps on threatened species to improve their conservation. Another goal is to engage with the public, in a science communication space, as I believe that education is a key component of effectively conserving our wildlife!
What elements of the program have surprised you so far?
The amount and diversity of fieldwork that I’ve been involved in have surprised me. Along with the larger surveys, I have surveyed Yookamurra’s rare plants and mallee fowl mounds, set up camera traps and surveyed termite presence. Even within the office, I have been involved in many different activities. These have included writing project risk assessments and survey reports as well as analysing camera trap images and survey data. I was lucky to have the opportunity to assist in open days and school visits at Yookamurra. I loved talking about our work and helping to teach excited students about conservation. Overall, I am surprised how much I have enjoyed every task and how each experience has reaffirmed my passion for working in conservation.
Have you completed any other science internships? If so, how does this one differ?
This is my first science internship, and I am impressed with how much I’ve learned and how well I’ve been mentored throughout the internship. It has been the perfect start to my career!
Is there a unique moment in the internship so far that you’ve enjoyed or that stood out as a moment you’ll always remember?
There have been many special moments! One was coming across a Western Pygmy Possum at Dakalanta. A volunteer thought it was a sick mouse so called me over and I was shocked when I looked into the pitfall trap and saw a pygmy possum curled up in torpor! Overall, we caught 29 over the 3 week survey which was unbelievable!
Another unique moment was spotting a mallee fowl when I was checking biodiversity sites and several minutes later stumbling into its mound, a new one for Yookamurra!
Would you recommend it to others interested in science-led conservation and why?
I would definitely recommend the internship to others! From day one I was handling animals and learning to identify species. The number of experiences and skills you acquire are irreplaceable. An added bonus is being surrounded by people with similar passions and interests which creates a fun work environment.