Intern Insight: Why biology students should consider the private sector

An intern with long, light brown hair and a striped tank top is smiling while holding a large lizard with dark patterned skin. They appear to be in an indoor setting, possibly a lab or classroom, with yellow equipment visible in the background—clearly showcasing Biology students' enthusiasm for hands-on learning.

By: Tori Northrop

When I was going through school, my plan was to be a doctor. But when I started down my list of pre-requisite science classes, I quickly realized that I did not enjoy learning about human anatomy. What did excite me, though, was learning about animal behavior, evolution, and ecology. So, I decided to start exploring the different directions I could take with a degree in biology.

My choices felt limited. The most common alternate career paths – and the most talked about on campus– were either in government or academics. During my hunt for internships, I was talking with my father, and he introduced me to the idea of environmental consulting and working in the private sector. He is an engineer, and growing up, I often heard him talk about the business of land development, but never really thought it was a place for scientists and biologists. An internship opportunity at Atwell gave me a chance to dig deeper into the industry and all the possibilities.

Through this internship, I was able to learn more about the day-to-day responsibilities of a wildlife biologist/field technician and how the work they perform impacts the world around them. The role was fascinating, and I was excited to be given the opportunity to work side-by-side with other full-time employees. That kind of hands-on experience is not something you get in a lot of internships.

As an intern, I was able to truly experience what being a consultant means. I wrote reports and even developed new systems for the team to use. One of my biggest projects was helping to review and implement a new software for my team that improved efficiency and consistency of data for their growing team. Because our field technicians are constantly gathering data, this new tool helped them save time with their reporting. It made me proud that the work I was doing wasn’t just some filler work, but the result was actually going to be implemented into the company’s process.

One of the hardest parts was getting to know and understand the permitting and legal jargon that comes along with consulting projects. I learned more about how different species become protected, the requirements around working with wetlands, and the guidelines in place to protect them. That wasn’t something I studied or learned about in school, and it was interesting to see how it all connects to the work that I did in the field.

Throughout my internship I was never treated as “just an intern”, but as a someone who has knowledge and experience that can benefit the company. Atwell does a great job of seeing the potential people bring to the company, even at the lowest level, and they’re open to make changes to systems so that they work better and benefit everyone.

While I can’t say that my mind is made up on the career path that I can plan to pursue, I am thankful to have had the chance to learn about this side of the industry. The opportunity Atwell has given me to explore the different sides of environmental consulting in the private sector has made me excited for all the new possibilities I can pursue with my degree.