Student stories

Biology grad interns with great white sharks

Bonnie Cleland

Oceans Research

When Bonnie Cleland said she wanted to travel and see the world after graduation in 2011, she never thought she would end up in South Africa working with great white sharks! After finding (and being offered) a volunteer internship with Oceans Research through the UVic Co-operative Education & Career Services Portal, Cleland exceeded her dreams of world travel by moving to Mossel Bay, South Africa and put her education to work researching the behaviours of great white sharks.

“My experience in South Africa was amazing,” Cleland says. “It was such a rewarding internship and allowed me to participate in activities that not many people ever get to do - play tug of war with a great white shark!” As a combined Biology and Psychology Honors graduate, Cleland was able to gain practical hands on experience relevant to her degree through the internship with Oceans Research.  Cleland explains that the data she collected from tagging, monitoring, and studying the sharks will be used in a number of scientific projects. “The data I helped to collect will used in honors and master’s theses, as well as put into a global pool of ongoing projects worldwide.”

Cleland credits her experiences as an undergraduate at UVic to her success after graduation. She was keen to get involved in a variety of programs and events during her degree from joining student clubs, intramural soccer, attending career fairs, and becoming a co-op student. In fact, it was her co-op term at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney, BC that helped her realize her passion for marine biology.

It was this drive to get involved and take risks that led Cleland to her volunteer internship in South Africa. The internship through Oceans Research was a month long program, during which Cleland lived and worked with fifteen other interns from around the world. Cleland is thrilled to have had the experience of working with great white sharks, but also values the opportunity to have developed other skills. “I gained practical field research experience,” Cleland says, “and got to network with students and recent graduates from eight countries.” The internship also increased her skill set to include boat safety and maintenance, navigation, weather monitoring, emergency sea procedures, international radio communications, and safe animal handling skills.

Currently, Cleland works as an intern for Earthwatch in Australia, a position she found through AIESEC Victoria (a division of the global student organization available on campus at UVic), where she facilitates research logistics and experiences for volunteers. “It was because of my experience and education at UVic that I have been able to pursue field related work in an international environment.”

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