Intern name: Rob McManus
Major(s)/Minor(s): Biology and Environmental Studies double major
Title/place of internship/fellowship, etc.: Summer Intern / Freshwater and Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area
How did you find out about your internship/fellowship/etc.? I had originally agreed to do a research project and study science policy at the Science Museum of Minnesota until the pandemic hit and they shut down. I then reached out to my internship site last year asking if I could continue working part time there. Additionally, I was talking to my neighbor (socially distanced of course) who is the president of board for a protected area in Wisconsin and he had mentioned they needed help with advertising and media creation. I immediately offered to work for them and was accepted the same day. Both internships taught me the importance of never burning bridges and the power of simply asking. The worst they can say is no.
What were your responsibilities at your internship/fellowship/etc.? My responsibilities varied greatly from day to day, it felt as though I never did the same thing twice. For my internship at Freshwater, I did donor outreach, grant writing, coordination of chemical testing, and writing my research paper which I hope to submit for publication this fall. For my internships with the Namekagon Barrens Board, I taught myself a new mapping software (QGIS), developed a visitor map, created a strategic two year plan to increase visitor involvement/interest, conducted a mini research project focusing on the Barren's plant phenology (determining when plant species bloom during the year and comparing the data with past years), and I even dabbled in a bit of website design and improvement.
What was the most beneficial aspect of your experience? This summer I met so many amazing people virtually and I see the network I created being highly valuable for me in the future. I also learned the importance of being versatile and accepting tasks which you may not be an expert in. I had absolutely no experience in website design when I was asked to evaluate their website and create a prototype for a new site. Never underestimate the power of YouTube tutorials. The more you are able to do for your employer, the more you will be trusted with. Say yes to (almost) everything, and worry about learning the skill later.
What was the most surprising thing you experienced or learned during your internship/fellowship/etc.? I suppose the obvious answer is having to navigate an internship that was 100% online. I learned a lot about myself and how difficult it is for me to remain focused while sitting at the kitchen table in a busy house. I learned the importance of setting daily goals for myself to accomplish as well. Because of the nature of my online internships, I did not have strict deadlines or a boss to keep tabs on me. So, I had to work hard to motivate myself to get me work done. Without creating daily, achievable goals, I would have gotten far less accomplished.
How can you apply what you experienced at your internship/fellowship/etc. in the future? My ability to set small achievable goals, create connections with others virtually, and undertake tasks not in my tradition field of study are highly applicable to any potential career options I decide to pursue. I also have a much greater understanding of how nonprofits are run, what it takes for them to be successful, and the importance of fundraising which is also highly applicable. Finally, I learned that if you want to get anywhere, you HAVE to be willing to put yourself out there and create opportunities for yourself. No one else will do it for you. That advice has gotten me far so far and I do not doubt it will help me for the rest of my life.
What advice would you offer to future students interested in this experience? Reach out to sites that do not have an internship posted and create your own. Not every place will accept you, but it is not too hard to find a nonprofit that will happily accept free labor. While making your own internship can be more difficult because it takes far more internalized-motivation, it allows you to do EXACTLY what you want. It also creates an experience which will set you apart from other job applicants in the future because you have already demonstrated an impressive work drive.