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The How To's of Landing an Animal Internship During a Pandemic, and Beyond

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

One of the most important ways to gain experience in the field of animal science, is through an internship! Whether you’re in middle school, high school, college, or beyond, throwing yourself into an animal related work environment is the perfect way to know if and what part of animal science might be for you.

Last summer, I was accepted into an internship program in Louisiana, but the program was cancelled as a result of the pandemic. I was crushed, and leveled by the fact that I no longer had an internship position arranged for the summer. While I was disappointed by the fact that I was so close to a new opportunity only to have it get cancelled, I quickly decided that I was going to turn my negative emotions into fire for the next school year. I decided that regardless of the pandemic likely stretching into the next summer, I was going to have an internship.

I took the summer to plan out my action plan for my internship application process in the fall, and work on some other goals of mine. As soon as the fall semester started, I hit the ground running. I applied to various internship positions every week from August through January, and waited admittedly anxiously to see if anyone was willing to take me on as an intern for the summer. Throughout the process, I started to feel a tad bit defeated as I began to receive rejection letter after rejection letter, and couldn’t figure out where I was going wrong. Suddenly, in February the acceptances started rolling in. The first acceptance that I received was to my first choice internship, a clinical poultry research position at Zoetis Inc. in Kalamazoo, Michigan. This was a position that I briefly considered not applying for as I thought that there was no way that they would choose me, yet here I am, typing this blog post from Kalamazoo, Michigan!

Enough about me. Read below for a step-by-step guide to landing your own animal internship.

  1. Identify your career path.

What do you want to be? If you already know, skip to Step Two. If you have no idea, that's completely fine! The purpose of identifying your career path before you start looking for internships, is to help you narrow down which programs and applications you'll pursue. If you don't yet know what you want to do, apply for everything that you can get your hands on. As you intern in different areas of animal science, you'll begin to figure out what you like doing, and what you'd prefer not to do. Remember, extra experience never hurts. By trying new things, you might just fall in love with your internship and discover a new passion!

2. Start thinking about what type of internship best aligns with your career goal.

With your career goal in mind, start thinking about what kinds of internship experiences are most likely to give you the experience necessary to get closer to your goal. For example, if you want to become a large animal veterinarian, a good place to start would be to look for and apply to farm animal internships, or livestock research internships. If you're thinking about becoming a conservation officer, you'd look for internships at national parks, environmental protection agencies, or even with your local conservation groups!

3. Go back, and add two more internship categories that you can apply for! Yes, go back.

Keep your options open! One of the things that I did wrong last summer, was limit myself to specifically small animal medicine internships. I didn’t apply to any of the other various types of internships available in other fields of animal science, which impacted the number of programs I could apply to, and ultimately, the number of programs that I was accepted into.

By applying to as many internship programs as possible, you’ll not only have a broader selection of programs to choose from at the end of your application season, but you’ll also find yourself learning about areas of the field that you’ve never heard of nor considered before! To help you get started, here's a brief list of the different categories of internships that might relate directly, or indirectly to your career goals:

  • Animal Nutrition, Laboratory Animal Research, Zoo/Wildlife Internships, Animal Pharmaceuticals, Cattle Operations, Animal Welfare

  • Wildlife Rehabilitation, Veterinary Pharmaceutical Sales, Aquarist Internships, Animal Behavior, Government/Agency, Wildlife Conservation

4. Research! Start looking for internship programs that fit what you're looking for, and arrange them into a spreadsheet.

Now that you've figured out what kinds of internships you're going to apply for, it's time to start looking for them! Believe it or not, this step is way easier than it sounds. First, open Google Sheets or Excel, and create your application spreadsheet. Some important categories to include in your spreadsheet could be "Program Title, Application Deadline, Program Description, and Location". It’s important to create this spreadsheet before you start looking for programs to apply for, because otherwise you’re more likely to get disorganized and miss important application deadlines.

After you’ve created your spreadsheet, open Google, type the internship category that you're looking for with the word "internships" and your classification at the end (ex: "Animal Behavior Internships for Undergraduates), and click search. You're going to be bombarded with a ton of programs, which is exactly what we’re aiming for! Start at the top and work your way through the search results, eliminating any programs that don’t fit your criteria. Try not to be too selective, and remember that you can always narrow down your applications once you’ve finished organizing your application spreadsheet.

5. Start applying!

Now for the important part! Once you've added all of the programs that you plan to apply for to your spreadsheet, it's time to start applying. Start your applications for the internship programs with close deadlines before you apply to the internships that aren't due in the near future, and try to apply to only one or two applications at a time to stay organized. As you start to open applications, you'll notice that each program will have different application requirements than the last. For applications that require essays, recommendations, or transcripts (or all three), you'll want to make arrangements to have your application materials ready far in advance of the deadline. Contact any recommenders at least two weeks before you need a recommendation from them, write your essays with enough time to review and perfect them, and if necessary, order your transcripts to your school at least a week and a half before the submission date.

Before you submit each application, have someone that you trust (advisors, reviewers, parents, etc.) take a look at your application to make sure that you haven't forgotten any important pieces of information.

6. Waiting Period/Follow up.

Now for the hard part. As you finish applying to all of your programs, you'll reach what I call the "waiting period". This is the period of time where it feels like you're floating in space, waiting to be grabbed by a potential employer. You might even float for a month or two, and during this time it's completely normal to feel anxious about what's happening with your applications. Remember that you've done all that you can, and all you can do now is wait and see what happens!

Soon, you'll start to receive both acceptances and rejection letters, and it's important to follow up with whoever has sent you your status email/letter. If you got rejected by a program you're really interested in, don't be scared to ask what you can do to be a more competitive applicant for the next application cycle! Responding positively to a "no" makes it more likely that you'll receive a "yes" from that same program in the future, so make an effort to be a good sport about it, and make the changes necessary to get accepted next cycle.

7. Send a thank you email.

Say thank you! Once you begin to receive your acceptance emails, you'll want to thank every single person that sends you an acceptance, even if you don't intend on accepting their offer. If you're sending an email to thank a program that you're not going to be attending, let them know that you appreciate the offer, and have decided to go with another program. Keep it short and straight to the point, but make sure to be humble about the situation and let them know that you're thankful for the offer. For the program that you decide to accept, show immense gratitude, and let them know how excited you are to join their program as an intern.

8. Show up, and show out.

Congratulations! You're officially a hired intern. You've aced the application cycle, and are now on to excel at your new work place. The journey is far from over, but I'm here to help you along the way!

Head to our next blog post to get some insider tips on performing as an extraordinary intern!

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