Environmental Internships: The "Natural" Jobs

Environmental internships are one way to set yourself on the path toward a fulfilling new outdoor career, even if you have little or no previous experience.

| July/August 1981

As I eased myself onto yet another limb, I realized I was higher up in a tree than I'd ever been before, a good 35 feet at least. However, there was little time to worry about the "altitude." Art Gingert—the Audubon warden who was watching my progress from the ground—yelled, "How many eggs are in the box?" So I swung over (safe, or so Art claimed, in my rope harness) closer to the trunk of the tree, unhooked the latch on the sparrow-hawk nesting box that had been placed there the previous fall, lifted the wooden lid, and looked inside. To my great delight, I found a clutch of small speckled eggs nestled in a bed of dried grass.

"Three!" I shouted back. A big grin broke across my boss's sunburned face. "This project looks more promising all the time!" he exclaimed. "OK, close the box and come on down."

I wasn't exactly eager to let go of the sturdy branch I'd been clinging to, but—spurred on by Art's encouragement—I eventually pushed off and dangled momentarily in space before gathering sufficient nerve to start rappelling down the tree trunk. When my feet touched the ground at last, I let out a spontaneous whoop of excitement. I was thrilled with my most recent accomplishment and buoyantly happy to have found my way into the world of environmental internships, in this case the National Audubon Society's Naturalist Training Program.

In fact, I frequently counted my blessings for having landed the position that sent me to a beautiful 680-acre wildlife sanctuary in northwestern Connecticut for three months. Many times, as I went about my outdoor duties, I could scarcely believe that just a few months earlier I'd been sitting at a desk in a social services agency in upstate New York, bored with the office routine and wondering how I—with a degree only in sociology and absolutely no experience in biology or wildlife studies—could ever pursue my dream of becoming a naturalist. It was by luck alone that I had stumbled upon some information about the Audubon training program. That stroke of good fortune radically changed my life!

Since completing my own successful internship two years ago, I've met lots of other people who—like me—were eager to enter conservation-related professions but didn't quite know how to go about doing so. From talking to such folks, and then relaying their questions to my new contacts in the environmental education field, I've learned that there are many outdoor training "schools" all over the country. The National Audubon Society is probably the best-known sponsor of such sessions, but similar projects are also run by college research stations, bird observatories, nature centers, marine aquariums, and state conservation offices. (You should know, however, that although virtually all of the programs do admit men and women who aren't attending college, I've found that the greatest proportion of internships go to undergraduate and graduate students.)

Job Benefits

What can people expect to gain from environmental training programs?

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