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Increasing appreciation and understanding of the natural world

PRBO's Internship Program

Geoffrey Geupel

As a PRBO intern on the Farallon Islands in 1990, Nina Karnovsky (now a professor) helped study Rhinocerous Auklets. Photo courtesy Nina Karnovsky
Knowing how our environment is changing requires keeping track of biological indicators in the field--just as monitoring your body requires keeping track of your pulse, blood pressure and other health indicators. In order to keep our fingers on the pulse of the environment, PRBO places more than 100 people in the field every year through our internship program. This corps of biologists helps gain the knowledge critical to our efforts to reverse the decline of species and to practice effective conservation. Their focus, of course, is primarily on birds and their habitats.

Because of their beauty, visibility, diversity and role as indicators, birds are model organisms for students of natural history and conservation biology. Studies of avian life history and ecology give us precious insight into the structure of the natural world and the forces that shape it. Natural history came of age as a science in the 1930s. Since then, field biology courses emphasizing careful observations have entered the curriculum of many universities, and our understanding of organisms in their ecosystems has improved exponentially.

Yet actual field time is increasingly hard for students to find. Most academic situations today favor scientific studies in which variables can be controlled and results obtained quickly and interpreted easily. Field studies involve an uncontrollable environment--the natural world; they require long-term investigations, careful and repeatable observations, and countless hours in the field.

PRBO's internship program, dating back to the early 1970s, provides one of the few chances for a student of biology to participate, not for hours but for months, in the long-term study of birds and their habitats. Interns interact daily with PRBO staff and associates, they monitor known individual birds of many kinds (and even elephant seals), and they live and work in remote places, immersed in field research. We train them not only in field protocols but also in the management, analysis and interpretation of field data. Many are also involved in education and outreach, interpreting PRBO's work to visitors and students.

For our interns, time in the field at a PRBO study site permanently influences their appreciation and understanding of the natural world.As shown in the following pages, graduates of our intern program go on to highly worthwhile endeavors, where the skills and values they learned at PRBO are important components in their daily efforts to understand and protect our environment's health.