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L – Cleaning sample bottles in the Tree Physiology Lab at Biltmore Hall. R – Assisting with sap flow probe installation at Hill Forest.

My internship began with a rejection. I applied and interviewed for an internship position with the USDA Forest Service and NC State’s Tree Physiology Lab in August 2014. A week after the interview, I received an email from my interviewer saying that I had not been chosen for one of two available positions. I was disappointed with the result as I felt that I was qualified for the position, and I needed an internship in order to stay on track to graduate in May 2015. I decided to move on and continue to apply for other internships.

In November, I was still looking for an internship and I knew that I was rapidly running out of time. I decided to email the person that interviewed me at the USDA Forest Service to find out if there were any available positions. He responded to my email and said that he could offer me a position that provided 40 to 50 hours of experience. I met with him at his office at Centennial Campus and I soon found myself working as a volunteer for the Forest Service.

I completed a project during my time as a volunteer. The Forest Service had a study that dealt with how logging operations affect the flow of streams located in hardwood forests. The goal of my project was to compare the flow of streams in a plot that had been mostly cleared of trees to the flow of streams in a plot that had not been cleared. Analyzing data on the stream flow could explain how logging operations might affect the flow of streams. The study focused on two adjacent plots at two different sites, Hill Demonstration Forest and Umstead Research Farm.

My duties as a volunteer were varied. During my internship, I traveled with Forest Service employees to the field to download data from passive sampling equipment that continuously collected data in the field for a given amount of time. Occasionally, the field equipment malfunctioned and we would have to fix the equipment or replace the power supply. I also worked in the lab preparing leaf litter samples collected in the field for analysis. The leaf litter samples were collected in a laundry basket covered with a net to catch anything that fell to the forest floor. I also spent my time in the lab helping my fellow interns construct sap flow probes. These were used in the field to measure the moisture flow within a tree.

My internship experience was enjoyable. Fortunately, there was enough work to allow me to fulfill my internship requirement. I was able to apply what I learned in the classroom in a variety of situations. Monitoring stream health was a large part of my project, so I had to use what I learned from taking a water quality management course at NC State. Being familiar with how watersheds function and knowing about water quality parameters made me a very useful intern. I also picked up new skills that I did not learn in the classroom such as constructing sap flow probes and downloading data from passive samplers. I also gained valuable experience using Excel as I completed my project.

Even though I enjoyed my internship experience, there were certain aspects of the job that I did not enjoy. Sorting leaf litter for hours was extremely tedious and dull. The leaf litter had to be dumped out of a paper bag and sorted into needles, fruit, woody biomass, and leaves. On average, sorting a bag of leaf litter took 20 minutes. However, sorting leaf litter taught me that not all aspects of my career of an environmental professional will be enjoyable and to take pride in my work. Also, spending a significant amount of time in the field meant that I was at the mercy of the weather. Fortunately, my internship mostly took place during the winter so I did not have to worry about insects.

After completing my internship, I plan to focus on finding jobs that have a balance of working in the field and indoors. My internship was a good mix of both and I look forward to finding an opportunity that offers a similar mix of working in the field and indoors. One of the main goals of the projects that I worked on with the Forest Service was to find the best management practices, or BMPs for logging operations that protected the environment while being economically viable. Developing BMPs requires years of study and analysis. I would like to find a job that deals with this topic since it helps to find sustainable practices that can improve the lives of many people.

To sum it up, I learned a great deal about myself and what I would like to accomplish during my career. Splitting my time between working in a lab and working in the field was ideal because it kept my internship fresh and varied my experiences. Working with the Forest Service confirmed that I chose the correct career path to embark upon.  I really enjoyed working in the field and experiencing what goes into collecting data used for environmental projects. Being involved in the process of finding BMPs was an interesting experience. I also learned how to work with others to accomplish a common goal. I gained this experience in field by working with Forest Service employees and working with other interns while I was in the lab. Most importantly, finding an internship taught me about what it takes to find a job that fits my interests. Working with the Forest Service was the result of searching for nearly two years for an internship. The experiences I gained and the connections I made have put me on track to start a career in the environmental field. I could not imagine having a better experience anywhere else.