Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research
2004 represents the twelfth year that the Student Botanical Intern Program has been run. A total of 19 applications were received for the Program, with 18 placements offered and 17 accepted. All 17 Interns successfully completed the Program in 2004. The number of applications received this year was comparable to numbers in recent years.
Nine Australian universities or colleges were represented along with graduates from an overseas institution. There were five Australian National University, two Canberra University and two CIT students making the 2004 Program a Canberra dominated one. The trend of low numbers from Sydney continues, with only one student taking part in the program. A student from Germany also helped to provide an international flavor to the Program.
Many of our participants had completed, or were in the process of completing, degrees in horticulture. Other students were working towards degrees in environmental science, botany or geography. Overall it was a good mix of backgrounds and interests that no doubt added to the Interns learning experience.
For the first time a second call for applications was made after disappointing numbers were received at the close of the first application deadline. This may be the result of students needing to find paid work during the summer break to meet university fees. It may also show the direct targeting of academics to sell the program is beginning to fail and future recruitment needs to move to electronic advertisements.
Output achieved by Interns during 2004 is roughly equal to 1.4 years work (of an entry-level TO), based on a 200-day working year. However, this does not take account of the CPBR and ANBG staff, many of which put in long hours, supervising and lecturing. This comparatively is a reduction on previous years productivity (the average over 1999-2003 being 1.7 years). This reduction is largely attributable to the shortening of the Program from eight weeks to seven; forced on us to better fit in with earlier University starting dates.
The major push to process herbarium specimens identified as priority groups for the AVH project continued this year. This work included mounting and incorporation of vascular and non-vascular specimens, identification of specimens, assistance with loans and exchange, data entry, determining specimen geocodes, spirit collection maintenance and general lab and herbarium tasks. The major focus of the curation in 2004 centred around the orchid collection. As part of this additional herbarium space was made available by reshuffling neighbouring families for future incorporation. Significant progress was also made to changing names in the orchid spirit collection.
The unmounting of the remaining Deniliquin Rangeland Herbarium specimens for appropriate archival remounting was a major focus of the Intern curatorial labour. Started in the 2003 Program, this was completed in 2004. Processing of the QRS herbariums duplicate backlog was another large task that was continued with the help of this years Interns, good progress being made.
Along with curation work, this year saw a trial of intern research assistance. Each intern was assigned, mostly in pairs, to an ongoing CPBR research project where they provided basic assistance for half a day a week. This work was aimed at providing interns with additional skills and experience along with providing much needed labour to researchers. The biggest project saw all interns over several days recording measurements they took from 500 eucalypt seedlings as part of a CPBR supported PhD project. Assistance was also provided to research groups such as orchids, cryptogams and several ongoing lab projects. The developing "orchid key" interactive product was also tested by several interns who made comment on its accuracy and usability. See Attachment A for detailed work outputs.
After the January 2003 bushfires a new route had to be selected for the annual eucalypt identification fieldtrip. Ian Brooker led the interns through sites around Queanbeyan, Captains Flat and Tallaganda State Forest, introducing them to many of the local tree species. The four-day residential field trip to Jervis Bay went ahead after early fears the trip may have to be cancelled due to bushfires in the area. Much of Booderee National Park was burnt, but this allowed the opportunity for Malcolm Gill to lead the interns in a post fire assessment of the woodland and heath communities. Species showing varying degrees of response to fire were collected, identified and documented. The students also enjoyed a bush tucker tour led by Wreck Bay local Barry Moore around the Booderee Botanic Gardens.
The 2004 Program attracted media attention at the end of the course with an ABC 666 Local Radio interview of two graduates and a short Canberra Times article. There was also a full-page article published in the Summer 2004 Natural Heritage detailing the activities of the 2003 Intern program.
Overall, the 2004 Interns Program was very successful. Work output was good if somewhat briefer in duration than previous years. A wide range of curatorial and research tasks were supplemented with much needed intern labour. The general bulk processing of herbarium specimens still makes up the core component of intern work each year, work that is sorely needed to keep the collection up to date.
All Interns were also provided with Evaluation Forms for the Program. Comments from these forms are currently being reviewed to help make improvements to the 2005 Program.
Overall costs come out at $5 666 to run the 2004 Interns Program, slightly more expensive than 2003 (at $5 450). As with previous years most of this cost was generated by the Jervis Bay fieldtrip, and associated vehicle hire and fuel costs.
No major difficulties were encountered during the running of the 2004 Program, though a few issues need to be thought about for next year:
Several key institutions (eg. ANU and Uni of Canberra) began their first semesters in the last week of February, resulting in the traditional eight-week program for the first time being reduced to seven weeks. It seems likely that this will have to be a permanent change, resulting in a reduced output. The recommendation is that several non-core lectures are cut from the program and perhaps more students be recruited to help reduce this loss of productivity.
IT support was much improved as compared to previous years, the in-house presence of Kim Navin provided quick and effective support when computer problems were inevitably encountered. Email was once again set up on the EA network and linked to Intern personal web accessible accounts in order for them to be to readable on the CSIRO network; whilst this works a simpler solution would be preferred.
The perennial problem of accommodation for interstate participants remains a major issue. All of the western edge ANU colleges (eg. Burgmann, Burton and Garran) were fully booked before interns could even apply for residency. This year a deal was done with Fenner Hall to pre-book places for interns for the full seven weeks; several students took up this offer. This seems to be the way to go with future programs, a deal with Fenner or possibly a closer college will help provide some assurance to incoming students in Canberras ever tightening rental market.
The success of the 2004 Program is in no small part due to the considerable efforts of a number of Centre staff, outside academics and others who freely gave their time to present lectures and training sessions, as well as providing supervision for Intern work teams. I am most grateful to all concerned. Thanks are also due to all CPBR and ANBG staff, especially those at the Herbarium, for their tolerance, enthusiasm and support during the course of the Program.