Internship reflections – Jack Sheehy

Jack Sheehy, a postgraduate researcher from the first cohort, undertook a 3-month internship in 2021 with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), a public body advising government on nature conservation.

The internship opportunity, working on a project entitled ‘Mapping cetacean ecosystem services to their distribution and abundance’, was offered through the UKRI Policy Internships Scheme and was home-based due to Covid-19 restrictions. This resulted in a first authorship publication for Jack which you can read here:

Jack shares his reflections on the experience below.

What reasons did you have for undertaking an internship?

Personal development, enhancing professional skills/ improving employability, curiosity/personal interest, benefits to PhD project, exploring a potential career path, and a break from the PhD to look at something different.

What did your internship role involve?

I was evaluating and mapping cetacean ecosystem services through the following project tasks:

  • Literature review of cetacean ecosystem service evaluation
  • Figuring out which distribution and abundance data were available and would work with the project
  • Drafting background information on cetacean ecosystem service evaluation techniques
  • Calculating different categories of cetacean ecosystem service values (eg cultural/tourism, carbon storage, nutrient cycling)
  • Mapping these values to distribution and abundance data and other refining criteria (such as MPAs)
  • Statistical analysis to assess justification of values to cetaceans– cetacean activity linked to fisheries value
  • Drafting a report to justify these values

I also contributed to meetings and discourse on other JNCC projects in weekly catchups, which provided more of an idea of how the JNCC works and an insight into the broader scope of JNCC work.

What were the main benefits to you of undertaking the internship?

For me I felt I needed to step away from the PhD for a bit so I could come back to it with fresh eyes; this might have been exacerbated by Covid and working from home. The project itself was great for me to get involved in a slightly novel area of research and I found it actually syncs up with a fair bit of my PhD research. It’s opened up some new possibilities of direction for the PhD which I didn’t think would have been possible before.

Also, the internship could arguably contribute to all domains of the PGCert researcher development framework. I increased my knowledge and intellectual abilities in ecosystem service evaluation and how this is applied to cetaceans. This involved the development of GIS and R programming skills in conjunction with extrapolation and refinement of methodologies to make them more widely applicable. In conducting the internship, I was also required to effectively manage the project; fitting the development of self-confidence, work-life balance, and career management. Similarly, the process to obtain the internship matched that of income generation in research governance and organisation; it required the drafting and defence of personal research techniques and skills to fit the project. Finally, the project was also a great chance to network, bolstering my engagement, influence, and impact in the scientific community. The project also required a high degree of creativity using novel methodologies to further the science in this field.

What opportunities for skills and personal development did the internship offer?

I think most of the personal development was gained through the opportunity of undertaking a ‘mini PhD’ project in terms of project management, liaising with colleagues, and other transferable skills such as presentations etc. We were also alerted to suitable webinars and seminars both internally and externally.

What were the main achievements and outcomes of the internship?

A peer reviewed paper is due to be published from this work alongside a JNCC report. I also have a solid background knowledge in quantification methodologies of cetacean ecosystem services and mapping them to their distribution and abundance. I am also more familiar with research and the location of online resources in this area.

Would you recommend an internship to other students?

Yes – I think it’s great to be able to take a step away from your normal research, it’s a good opportunity for networking, and the people at the JNCC have been great.