My internship at Zoo Miami

Name: Brianna Chin

HometownMiami, FL

Major: Biology on the pre-veterinary track

Where did you intern? What did you do there? Zoo Miami with the Conservation and Research Department, working alongside Dr. Steven Whitfield and Dr. Frank Ridgely. I am currently tracking the protected Gopher Tortoises in the Pine Rockland habitat using radio telemetry to understand their movement patterns and burrow/habitat usage.

How did you get your internship? I heard about the tropical conservation internship during the Fall 2017 semester and applied for the Spring 2018 internship through an email sent out by the biology department. I submitted my application with a cover letter, resume and letter of recommendation from an FIU professor and was accepted.

What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process? When opportunity knocks, take the chance and go for it! Take initiative and challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone because you may never know where it will lead you. I suggest looking out for programs that you are passionate about and want to learn more about; it will benefit you and your career goals in the future. My best advice is to have fun with it and go in with a positive open-minded attitude, the rest of your internship will come naturally to you and do not be afraid to ask for help from your mentors.

What projects did you work on? My project is focused on tracking the Gopher Tortoises movements throughout the Pine Rocklands using a handheld radio receiver and antenna system (radio telemetry) and a GPS. In addition, I’m learning and understanding more about the tortoise’s home range through the Google Earth Pro and Quantum Geographic Information System (QGIS) software. Each tortoise is tagged with a transmitter that sends out a certain frequency range that is then picked up by the radio receiver. When the tortoise moves from its last location where I had seen it, I use radio telemetry to help me to determine its exact location, and then collect a GPS location (waypoint) of the point of interest.

How did your internship connect back to your coursework? I have been able to utilize my biology background to this internship. I am still learning about the Gopher Tortoises and their special adaptations to the Pine Rockland habitat, prescribed fire burns and change of weather throughout the year. The whole internship has been a course in itself; I have learned about the Geographical Information System (GIS) and using two different software’s to keep record of GPS points. In addition, to working with the radio telemetry system from day one and how signals are transmitted and received in the form of frequencies and wavelengths.

What was the coolest thing about your internship or that happened during your internship? Driving the conservation department’s golf cart! This was the highlight of my internship plus, it helped me to be able to find the Gopher Tortoises and navigate around the zoo more efficiently.

What did you like most about your experience? I love how every day is a different day at the zoo; one moment I’m looking into a tortoise burrow with my camera endoscope and the next day I’m taking a female tortoise to the vet hospital to have a radiograph taken to check for eggs. It is rewarding to know that the information I collect out in the field is having a direct impact on future studies, to have a greater understanding of the Gopher Tortoises biology.

What did you learn about yourself? I have come to learn that when a task becomes frustrating and I cannot figure out the solution, I tend to quit on myself and doubt my knowledge. This goes hand-in-hand with my lack of patience for tedious processes. Aside from this, I do realize I definitely want to pursue a career in the zoo conservation/veterinary field.

How did the position increase your professional confidence? With the support I have received, I have become more confident in my communication with my mentors and updating them about the project or asking them for help on a certain task.

How did you expand your professional network? Zoo Miami has a variety of departments that all work together in one way or another, and I am grateful for all the opportunities the zoo has provided me with. I look forward to connecting with the zoo veterinarians to assist me with collecting samples from the Gopher Tortoises to check for diseases that can affect the rest of the population on site.

How did it help you prove yourself in the “real-world?” Participating in the internship twice a week– on top of being a full-time student, work on weekends at a vet clinic, and other extracurriculars – has shown others and myself that I am capable of balancing both my academic and extracurricular work. Also, it has helped me to voice my ideas more often because they are valuable and may be of benefit to the team on how a project can be improved for the future.