Student Experiences

Amy’s Internship for the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Myanmar

Interview with Amy Cox by Jennifer Feinstein

July 2017

Can you tell me a bit about the organisation you interned for?

I interned for the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) at their Myanmar office. IWMI is a non-profit research organisation and has offices in a number of cities throughout Asia and Africa. The head office is in Sri Lanka. The Yangon office where I was based was only established at the end of 2015, about 8 months before I arrived. The total staff number was three including me!


What was your role?

At IWMI Myanmar I was a research intern. I worked on the World-Bank funded ‘Myanmar Health Rivers Initiative’ (MHRI). The aim of this project was to gather data on both the Salween and Irrawaddy rivers to better understand the current state of the rivers and how they should be managed into the future. Specifically, I worked on a part of the project encouraging water citizen science, we delivered training in a number of villages along the rivers about macro-invertebrate monitoring as a way to understand water quality issues.

What do you feel you gained from the experience? 

I gained a great appreciation of how important the political/ social context is in doing environmental/ water based research. As Myanmar was under military rule for so long and has been ‘closed off’ from the outside world until a coupe of years ago, the context is incredibly different from Australia. For example, the first environmental protection law was introduced at the end of 2015. I also gained an interesting insight into the international development sector, the bureaucracy and funding woes of a number of organisations. Most importantly I gained an understanding of how theoretical knowledge learned at university is applied in different contexts to create tangible, practical outcomes for people and the health of the environment.

Did you face any challenges? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?

One of the main challenges I faced was the strict hierarchical way in which Myanmar operates. As an intern, especially a female, you are considered bottom of the pecking order and  I struggled to get my voice heard in a few situations. Understanding the local culture, and being respectful while also having the confidence to give input was difficult to navigate.

What are you doing now that you have graduated?

I started working full time in February at Arup, an engineering/ design firm with a focus on sustainability. I’m a graduate sustainability consultant there are do work on climate change adaptation, urban resilience and carbon accounting amongst other things! I am hoping to get more experience in the water sector and hopefully work overseas at some point.

Any advice for students looking to secure an internship/employment? 

This sounds very corny, but do what you’re passionate about. Staying connected to your purpose and why you got into a certain area to begin with is so important. As much as securing internships and employment is competitive (and I’ve been very lucky!) I think if you are genuinely committed to an area you will persevere and find something that fits you. Also just talking to people about your passions is very useful, you never know who will be able to open a door or provide a connection!

Ama’s Internship at The Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, NYC

Interview with Amaranta Valencia by Sophia Piscitelli

September 2015

Can you tell me a bit about the organisation?
The Cloud Institute consult and coach schools to help them incorporate sustainability into all subjects in their curriculum, rather than sustainability as a separate subject. It is based on the idea that unsustainable practices are the result of our way of thinking, so to become more sustainable we need to change the way we think. And our way of thinking is fostered in school. For example, one of the things they focus on is the power of participation and taking personal responsibility for the shared resources. My supervisor, Jamie Cloud, told me how the kids at one of the schools she worked with were able to eliminate drug dealing in the school by bringing down the local crack house! The kids brought media attention to the problem and the council was finally forced to close it down.

What was your role?
I spent a lot of time shadowing the director, Jamie, helping and observing how she worked. She is one of the few experts in this field and has 20 years of experience, so it was an excellent opportunity to learn from her.

What do you feel you contributed or gained from the experience?
I helped them with a couple tasks, including a very interesting project with other leaders in the field, about creating a benchmark for Sustainability Education. But for me the real outcome was the learning experience form being there. I was able to bring theory I’d learnt in the Masters and see how it works in practice. Now I want to do the same kind of thing back home in Ecuador when I finish my Masters – I already have some ideas! I also loved living in NYC, it’s such an interesting place with lots of things to do, although by the end I was pretty exhausted by the fast pace and ready to come back to Melbourne!

How did you secure the internship?
I took the subject Transforming Sustainability Education last year and it touched on worldviews and thoughts on the role of pedagogy in it, which made sense to me. I went to talk to the lecturer because I found it really interesting and she gave me a few suggestions including this one. So I emailed the organisations and although the process took a while they were happy to host me in the end.

Advice for people considering an internship?
If you have a subject you’re inspired by it’s worthwhile talking with the lecturer about opportunities. Once you find an organisation you’re interested in do your research on them and be persistent. Show them you’re interested don’t lose hope if they don’t reply quickly if they tell you to write back later then write back later. And start the process early because it can take a while!

Gabi’s industry research project with REDD+ Kenya

Interview with Gabi Arellano by Sophia Piscitelli

September 2015

What is your research project about?
I’m looking at the opportunity costs of slash and burn agriculture in the Kasigau Corridor Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) Project – Southern Kenya. The local people are living in between the REDD+ conservation area and the Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Park. With my research I’m trying to calculate the net agricultural income to know how much Wildlife Works would need to give as a compensation to the farmers, in order to stop the deforestation and conserve the forests. I went to Kenya this July to survey the local people in Sagalla village. One of the most important findings during my fieldwork was that Sagalla village is located in the middle of an elephant migration route and the elephants destroy about half of their crops. Therefore they don’t have enough to sell because they have to use the crops only for their own consumption.

Can you tell me about your experience in Kenya?
It was amazing! Although I did quite a lot of research into REDD+, when I arrived there the on-ground reality was so different. People were so poor; their houses were made out of mud and sticks, they were vegetarians because they didn’t have the choice to eat meat (mostly they ate cabbage, maize, beans, cassava, and avocado) -they have no alternatives. Also, my translator was a fundamental support in the field because she is from the area.

How did you come up with it?
Well a classmate went to the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney last year where he met the Director of Biodiversity and Social Monitoring of Wildlife Works- an organisation that runs REDD+ projects around the world. My classmate gave me the contact and I emailed the director asking about internship opportunities. He replied that they didn’t have internships but there were a few topics for research projects. From there I talked to a lecturer for advice and he agreed to be my academic supervisor. Then I worked with the organisation to come up with the research design.

Best aspects of the experience so far?
Besides the landscape and animals the best thing was spending time with the local community sharing meals with them and seeing first-hand how they live. By talking with them about the issues I realised that they are aware of the problem of deforestation, they don’t want it to happen but they have no other source of livelihood!