Interns and Training: You Get What You Put Into Them.

Lunch in the Woods


Training Interns is perhaps one of the funnest parts of my job over the past two years. For the most part I am stuck in the office way more then I want to be, so I really enjoy escaping into the woods to dig a phase 1. My office takes on Interns every summer, and some at random other times too so we have a fluctuating number of Interns as the years wans. This year we’ve got a huge crop (4 at once) and at this point in the summer “training” is over and “practice” is in full swing, which is great because we’re finishing up some big projects we wouldn’t have been able to get done this quickly without them. I wish we could pay them, but that’s not my decision, so I try really hard to make up for that with education and filling holes in knowledge.

Most of the Interns are fresh from their undergrads or on their last year of it, and they don’t know how to do a lot of basic stuff. Things like, how to dig a hole, how to look at soil, how to take notes, how to run a Trimble GPS, how to collect artifacts, fill out paperwork or an artifact bag, and what to do with it all when they get it back to the lab. I know these are perceived as little things but they have huge impacts. I also understand that things like paperwork and bags change from place to place, but there is a basic template for them all and knowing one makes the other easier to pick up.

So that said, I figured I’d dump a little advice here gleaned from a day working out in the tick infested woods of Southern Indiana training a fresh batch of Interns on how to do a phase 1.




Advice #1: Use your internship as practice, and practice everything. 

The two most important things you can do is Ask Questions and Get Feedback. I know this can be annoying for some people and it intimidates others, but you’re not doing yourself any favors by not figuring out what’s going on and why. Just start asking questions, and after you do something ask for constructive feedback. As an intern it’s kinda expected that you won’t know everything, unlike your first real job, so take advantage of this and use this time to learn.

The reverse of this is, Hey if you’re someone who is working with Interns, teach them how to do stuff and give them constructive feedback when they do it. You’re doing all of us a favor!




Advice #2: Take time to teach the other Interns what you’re not clear on. 

I know this sounds like a weird thing to suggest. How can you teach something if you don’t know it all the way? But that’s my point, By forcing yourself to be in a position where you have to explain what you are doing and why, you’ll see the weak points in your own knowledge and be challenged to fill them. Then you either fall back on research to fill those holes, or go back to Advice #1 and ask someone you’re working under to explain it to you.





Advice 3#: Take notes.

Yes there will be a test, and it’s call The Rest of Your Career. Take notes now on what you’re learning, what you already know, and what you need to learn. Create checklists to keep track and test yourself frequently. Also, learn to read the literature out there. Ebsco, Jstor, and any professional journal is an excellent place to start. Read, take notes, and ask questions.




Advice #4: This one is for those who are working with Interns. 

These are the next generation of archaeologists. What you teach them is going to inform them, but what you do when you teach them is going to impact them even more. If you tell them one thing and then do another, it’s just going to confuse them in the long run. Also, if you can’t make time to answer their questions you’re going to put them off and hamper them. Be open, be cordial, answer the same question five times if you have too. Show them how to do things correctly and fix problems when you see them. Also, have fun with them, because Interns are fun to work with.




Advice #5: How to be prepared to dig all day in the woods.

This is my final set of advice. Its aimed at the new graduate or Intern that is on their own and lost in the woods on their first job. I can’t write a post that will give you all the knowledge you need to do a good job, but I can give you advice on how to make outdoor work a little more pleasant. I’m focusing on the woods here because you can apply all of this in open field as well, and I like the woods. “But”, you think, “it’s the woods, how bad can it be?”, and you’re mostly right. I would rather dig in the woods any day then hot open Ag field, but there are still things to consider:

Wear appropriate clothing.

  • Wear long pants made of durable fabric, bonus points if it ‘breaths’.
  • Wear a shirt you don’t mind getting dirty, because you will. You can wear long sleeves if the material is breathable, I’ve seen some nice shirts like these in the Forestry Catalog, they also cost money, so take your pick.
  • Wear appropriate shoes. Pick shoes with a tough sole, think hiking shoes not running shoes, because you will be hiking and you will be stomping on a metal shovel, over and over. Reinforced toes are a great idea, but not a necessity, as is waterproofing. Go with comfort as much a possible, you’re going to be in these shoes all day.
  • Lets talk undergarments briefly. Men, I got no clue what kind of underwear makes the most sense to you, sorry. I assume something supportive and sweat wicking. Women, I got you! You’re going to be out all day, swinging a shovel, shifting dirt, sweating, crouching, hiking, and lugging heavy objects. Do yourself a huge favor and get a supportive sports bra that wicks away sweat, and do the same for your underwear and your socks. Wicking fabric is an amazing thing and worth the extra cash. Also, you won’t get your pretty underthings dirty and you may spare yourself a yeast infection, just saying.
  • I am also a big fan of hats, even in the woods. They keep things out of your hair and can shade your eyes when the trees get thin. Also, if it rains (and it will) it’ll keep the rain out of your face.

Pack in plenty of water and food.

  • Water is the #1 issue here. Most people don’t bring enough the first time they come out. I must insist that you have AT LEAST the equivalent of three full water bottles with you at the beginning of the day. I highly recommend that you try to drink one bottle completely by lunch and one completely by the end of the day. The third is back-up and/or other uses. Other uses include: Washing hands/wounds, wetting handkerchiefs for cooling, and sharing with your buddy who didn’t bring enough water with them. Yes it adds weight to your pack, but better that than heat-stroke or dehydration (both suck).
  • Bring enough food to keep you fueled. Also, always know where your lunch is. This amount will vary from person to person, some people are meal eaters, some a grazers, some just like to look at food. Either way, bring a good lunch and a few snacks with you, and keep track of it so it doesn’t get lost or eaten by nature.

You’re out in nature, so be prepared for it. On top of appropriate clothing you’re going to want to protect yourself in other ways too.

  • Spray for ticks. It won’t keep them all off, but it will keep them at bay, also, it will keep the mosquitoes way so win/win.
  • Wear sunscreen. I know you think you’re ok in the woods, but you’re not. Do yourself a huge favor and just wear the sunscreen. You don’t want to be 40 years old and have to have doctors slowly carve cancerous piece of your flesh off because you didn’t protect yourself from the sun when you were 20. Always wear sunscreen.
  • Keep an open eye out for snakes and other forms of wildlife. Depending on where you are this is more or less of an issue, but keep an eye out anyway. Besides, nature is cool and you might get to play with it a little if it’s not poisonous!
  • Tecnu Extreme is your friend. This gem of a product will keep you from getting poison ivy. You will not be able to avoid touching it, so get a tube of Tecnu and scrub down as soon as you get home. Bonus effect, it exfoliates wonderfully.
  • Find a Tic Buddy. Tic Buddies are people who are ok with taking tweezers and picking the little f*%#$ off your body after you’ve been in the woods. Return the favor if necessary.

Random comfort Items! Everyone has suggestions for what can make life outdoors more fun/comfortable. These things include:

  • Cloth Handkerchiefs, for a variety of reasons. You can use them to make a cooling wrap, for wiping away sweat, blowing your nose, first aid, and so on. I always have one and prefer the cotton ones over the poliester, they absorb better.
  • TP. Bears poop in the woods, and so will you eventually.
  • Plastic zip bags. Good for protecting your phone, keeping little things from getting wet, keeping things form rolling around in your bag, etc.
  • Energy drink power. Sometimes you just need a pick me up, these things are great for that.
  • Sunglasses. Bonus is they can double for safety glasses, Just be sure to take them off when you need to examine anything.
  • Clean, dry socks.
  • Hand wipes.
  • hand/foot warmers
  • And so on…

With that I wish you all Happy Intering, and if you want to share further ideas with me, contact me at and/or post to comments here!