By Xavier A. Jenkins, undergraduate student, Biological Sciences and Anthropology, Arizona State University
As a STEM major at ASU, I am always both overwhelmed by the richness of career paths available to me and confused as to just what career path is best. This past summer, I had the opportunity to work at Petrified Forest National Park (PEFO) as a Paleontology Intern. Nothing could have prepared me for the plethora of resources available to me, experiences and career relevant skills gained, not to mention the near-daily scientific discoveries made by the PEFO paleontology team. The National Park Service (NPS) provides a wide range of opportunities for STEM majors, ranging from resource management to scientific research and field work. If you want to gain valuable skills, career experience, and scientific fieldwork, working for the National Park Service might be for you!
My Days In a Nutshell
After drinking copious amounts of coffee, I’d head out to the Resources Department, where the Lead Paleontologist would discuss our plans for the day and would ask for our (myself and several other interns) input. Our days were split between excavating 220 million-year-old reptiles and working on our internship projects- endeavors meant to culminate in a scientific publication. We would also work directly with the park biology interns on herpetological surveys involving prairie rattlesnakes and a variety of lizards, as well as assisting in the vaccination of local prairie dog populations who were under threat by the plague.
If someone would have told me just how many universities, potential graduate school advisers, and researchers I would be able to network with in-person, I would have been shocked. In fact, throughout my entire three-month internship, there was rarely a day in which a visiting institution/researcher was not present at the Park. These ranged from entire paleontological field programs by Yale and Virginia Tech, to individual researchers assisting us in our summer projects. I have gained some amazing friends as a result of my National Park Service internship, and my search for a graduate program has certainly become a little more complicated--but in the best way possible!
Benefits and Resources
Petrified Forest National Park provided me with pro bono on-site housing as well as a generous food stipend twice a month. Although I myself was not provided a salary or hourly pay, there are a variety of programs that do provide support. Mosaics in Science provides paid internships for underrepresented students , providing $400-480 per week, as well as providing for travel costs and housing. The Geological Society of America also can provide paid internships for students studying geosciences, through a partnership with AmeriCorps.
Throughout your academic career, you might be wondering what positions are available to you and you might be worried about the lack of jobs or the competitiveness of your field. I think we should all keep an open mind towards a variety of career paths and working for the National Park Service comes with a variety of benefits. If you are a STEM major or otherwise, odds are there is a position out there for you! And remember, if you are unsure of any internship positions, sending an email never hurts!