Inside internships: Five top tips to ensure interns get what they really need
Internships can help rising conservationists kick start their careers, develop vital skills, boost their networks, and make a lasting impact on both society and biodiversity.
These insights come directly from Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) interns, who shared their stories and experiences in interviews and surveys. CLP is a partnership of three of the world’s leading biodiversity conservation organisations – BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International, and the Wildlife Conservation Society – that has directed project funding and training to approximately 3,000 early-career conservationists worldwide.
Drawing from this first-hand knowledge, CLP identifies five tips on making internships successful: by ensuring interns get what they need, the host organization will reap the benefits.
This blog post was originally published on the Conservation Leadership Programme website.
1. Create networking spaces
Our interns told us they value networking opportunities with conservationists working at all levels. Getting the chance to speak to other conservationists appears to be a priority, for our interns at least, because of how it can help them develop contacts for potential collaborations and job opportunities; share knowledge (such as specific methods and technologies); and be inspired by the work of others.
One intern commented: “I would really value some kind of intern gathering event, perhaps every few years, where people can come and share their stories and showcase their work.”
Another remarked: “By bringing in the young current interns and showing them how internships have changed the careers of former interns, it could be used to encourage them to make the most out of their internship opportunity.”
This got us thinking: an internship networking event could be quite easily held online, similar to other online networking events we’ve been involved in. Or interns could be ‘buddied up’, allowing those more experienced to help with the onboarding process. Multiple internship schemes around the world could work together to get their interns talking to each other. These are just a few ideas – there are potentially various ways to ensure interns can access a space to network.
2. Integrate interns
Even though an internship is a temporary position, our interns preferred it when efforts were made to completely integrate them into the host organization as a permanent member of staff would be, including being told about other internship projects happening in the same country and abroad.
One intern said, “To feel more integrated into the organization, it would be great to participate in different webinars or calls, hear stories, ask questions, and generally get to know other people from the organization, especially those working in the same field as me.”
One way to do this could be introducing the intern to the organization (such as through an internal email or presentation), and making sure interns participate in internal events, talks, training and other opportunities that aren’t necessarily related to their internship duties. Paying the intern a salary, if possible (or at least covering their subsistence and accommodation costs), is an essential way to ensure interns are integrated to the organization and are treated as any other member of staff would be.
3. Provide tailored support
We were told by our past interns that they think it’s important to ensure an internship is centred on an intern’s individual needs. After all, different interns will come to the position with different skills, expectations, approach to working, leadership styles, personalities, and so on.
Taking the time to understand the intern as an individual right from the start of their internship, such as through a welcome call in which you outline goals and expectations, is vital for tailoring any support you provide to their specific needs – such as any training, mentorship, or even just the way you interact with them in different working environments.
4. Learn from the process
Try to give interns an opportunity to provide feedback about their internship, and how it has impacted their career and contributions to conservation. Our interns certainly appreciated the chance for their opinions to be heard and valued.
Collecting this feedback (both during and after the internship) and noting down any lessons learned while working with them will also help improve how to run the next internship scheme. This information can also feed into the wider Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning framework of your organization (if it has one).
Monitoring the success of an internship scheme and promoting its impact to a global audience could also help attract potential stakeholders for future internship schemes. Telling the world about interns who have, for example, been offered a permanent position or contributed to a research breakthrough (like many of our past interns), showcases the fantastic benefits that can emerge from supporting an internship scheme. In the long-term, this could help improve the overall culture of internships and ensure both interns and organisations are benefiting from them as much as possible.
5. Keep in touch
Our interns really liked having regular contact with us both during and after their internships as a way to keep connected, learn about other opportunities we offer, and feel a general sense of belonging to a network of conservation professionals.
Regular contact could be maintained by signing interns up to your newsletter, and connecting with them on social media. Welcome calls, reporting, and post-internship calls and surveys can all help to maintain these important relationships – better still, why not try to make this contact fun and engaging to ensure positive and long-lasting relationships?
Getting updates and reports from the interns could also be beneficial for tracking and evaluating the impact of your internship scheme (see also Tip 4). What’s more, these updates are helpful for knowledge sharing not just within your organization, including with senior staff members, but also with other interns who are active at the same time, which could help keep them motivated.
CLP is a passionate supporter of early-career conservationists, and our Internship Scheme is just one area of our programme that strives to provide a springboard for talented leaders working in low- to middle-income countries who are dedicated to protecting nature. If you know someone who you think would benefit from undertaking an internship with one of our partner organizations, or if you run an Internship Scheme yourself and wish to collaborate in some way, then please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. We also run an annual small-grant scheme in which we direct funding and training to teams of early-career conservationists worldwide, for which we will announce our next call for applications in July 2022.
Author Profile | Kate Tointon
Kate Tointon is the Communications Executive for the Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP), a capacity building initiative that brings together the expertise of three conservation NGOs – BirdLife International, Fauna & Flora International, and the Wildlife Conservation Society. Since 1985, CLP has directed project funding and training to approximately 3,000 early-career conservationists worldwide to support locally-led solutions for tackling the biodiversity and climate crises.