The leaves hadn’t quite yet started to fall in New England when I first noticed that my morning commute had become consistently longer. At one “T” in the road, I rolled to a halt, but at least the setting was scenic. A tunnel of trees grew around the road there. The sun’s rays trickled through in the morning hours, alluding to the fall colors to come. I spotted a yellow school bus in the line of cars ahead of me and it occurred to me that it was the first year that I was not returning to school in the fall. I had graduated college in May 2017 and I was instead in the midst of my 6-month CLM internship outside of Boston. I had heard about the CLM internship program from a 2015 CLM intern I had met in summer 2016 and I was intrigued by the description.
- Explore your careergoals and expand your resume
- Experiencenew landscapes, habitats, and species diversity in the United States
- Apply your education to important conservation projects
Check, check and check. Yes, my experience as a CLM intern was just as the three bullet points above promised me. Perhaps we spent more time driving than I had expected. I shrugged as I counted the cars in front of me. Even without including my drive to the carpool meeting place, our daily roundtrip could easily be three hours.
There were four of us who traveled together, scouted native populations together and split the duties of seed collection and data keeping. We had all studied a form of biology as undergraduates and shared an appreciation for natural landscapes, especially for plants. We traded the plant identification books around and swapped stories of our previous field experiences. That day in my sedentary car I was smiling and thinking about the CLM field experiences that I will share in the future.
One of the interns was an avid hiker and usually had an upcoming trip in the works, whether it be to Acadia National Park or Mt. Greylock, the tallest mountain in Massachusetts. Never lagging behind on the trail, this intern liked to point out lichen and mushrooms and guess their classification. I had always liked plants, but this intern encouraged me to widen my appreciation for other forms of life, especially in this temperate region. I was also surprised when this intern admitted to reading my CLM blog posts, adding, “I would read a book you wrote.” I saw some beautiful flourishes of nature during my internship, but I liked them even more after experiencing them with this intern and sharing our reactions. Our experiences in nature are meant to be shared.
Another intern had a knack for recognizing many plants, despite being new to the area. “They’re medicinal and my mom used to take me and my siblings out to collect this,” the intern explained on day one. Our mentor bypassed plenty of these “weeds,” explaining that they wouldn’t be of use to the landowners for whom we worked, but this other intern showed me that they nonetheless had another purpose. On another occasion, all of us interns estimated how many collections we would make by the end of the season. This intern came up with a number much higher than the rest of us. When collection days started, this intern always encouraged us to make at least one more collection near the end of the day. On one collection day when we were short-handed, this intern kept up the spirits of the team enough to haul in the year’s highest number of collections in a single day–thirteen. We didn’t reach the high collection number this intern predicted for the season, but the goal motivated us to make every collection count.
The other intern was juggling aspirations of being a food scientist after working with plants at the molecular level while working in a lab during college. This intern’s love of food was not lost on anyone based on our conversation topics during lunch hour. We were all surprised when one day this intern brought a hefty sandwich into the field and cut it into four slices; a pan bagnat. None of us touched what we had packed for ourselves after digging into this gourmet treat. It was the start of a tradition of trading food with each other. Through this generosity we learned about each other’s cultures and built a stronger camaraderie. This intern also had a strong talent for understanding the emotional states of the other team members. Through offering to take on additional tasks in the field, prompting a smile with an impromptu dance or surprising us with milkshakes on a dreary office day, this intern taught me how to maintain team morale.
As I thought about how my career goals had changed and of the astounding sights we had found in the field, I realized that what really made this internship special was my intern team. When I applied, I had barely considered with whom I might be working. There was no description of the personalities with whom I would be matched. There is no way I could have anticipated my partners and their personalities and what they would teach me about life and teamwork. There is much more to a CLM internship than the job description.