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Undergraduate Biology Internship Stories:

When it's not what you expect

Always enthusiastic about working with animals, biology major Genevieve Davis was excited to accept an internship at an animal sanctuary in Florida this past summer. Having volunteered at an animal shelter and a veterinary hospital throughout high school, Davis hoped it would bring her animal-care skills to a new level.

“I had hoped it would be more about how to manage an animal sanctuary,” she said. Instead, she found herself feeding animals and cleaning cages—essentially the same things she did as a high school student, but in the muggy Florida haze.

Davis was justifiably disappointed in her internship, but says that, though she didn’t realize it at the time, she gained a lot from this experience. She made friends with people from all over the world and became more passionate about vegetarianism and helping animals. She enjoyed working with the various primates being held there, and learned a few transferable skills. The internship and its distance from home also helped Davis to become more self-sufficient. “I learned how to take care of myself,” she says.

Undaunted by the first mishap, Davis has already arranged another internship for next summer, this time researching with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Massachusetts. Here she will use new acoustic technology to locate and track humpback and right whales, in order to understand the factors that are contributing to local populations’ demise.

“I’m hoping this internship will be closer to what I want to do,” she says, and in fact, it probably will be. That’s because, this time around, Davis made sure to visit the site of her internship ahead of time and talk to previous interns, to see what they thought of it—two things she strongly advises all students to do before rushing into an internship.

In addition, Davis’ second internship will be better than the first because, rather than spending money on travel and food expenses (as she had to in Florida), she will instead be getting paid. Her work will be funded in part by an award she received from NOAA called the Hollings Scholarship.

Davis’ experiences demonstrate that the old saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try again” also holds true for internships; if your internship isn’t what you wanted it to be, stick it out, make the best of it, and try to find a better one later.

Looking back, Davis says she doesn’t regret spending her summer at the animal sanctuary—she provided a service to needy animals and says it was worth it because “I found out what I didn’t want to do…..I added it to my life lessons.”

by Sarah E. Fecht

Genevieve Davis found her internship at idealist.org, a website that lists many valuable jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities.

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Last Updated: 3/9/10