L-R: Jenn McPhee, Heather Wilton, Katherine Culbert, Katherine Surowiak, Christie Vandervlist

Internships at RBG

Royal Botanical Gardens, with its extensive mandate and 1,000 hectares of property, is an ideal training ground for recent graduates from various fields of study. The valuable work and experience that internships provide are made possible in part by support from organizations that include ArcelorMittal, Natural Resources Canada, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (U.S.) and the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Currently, there are five interns at RBG working in the areas of terrestrial ecology, aquatic ecology, botany, educational interpretation and horticulture. These are their stories.


Katherine Surowiak - Horticulture Intern

 My role has involved assisting the Horticulture Department’s collections management team and the opportunity to work alongside Jon, Curator and Manager of Plant Documentation, and Alex, Curator of Collections, has provided me with a tremendous amount of knowledge regarding the management of Living Collections within a botanical garden.  My internship provided the chance to learn about and assess the horticultural, educational, historical, and scientific significance of the RBG’s Living Collections, and the important role each individual collection plays within the gardens. 

Some of the projects I have worked on include: mapping of plants, completing collection inventories, adding plant data to BG-Base (a plant records management database), verifying plant names, aiding with the development of curatorial practices and procedures, determining the rarity value of plants within the Living Collections, and creating interpretive materials.

The highlight of my internship was having the opportunity to work with so many knowledgeable people.  It was great to be able to work with and gain insight from other interns, students, and staff members across all departments. 


Katherine Culbert – Terrestrial Ecology Intern

This internship has been an amazing learning opportunity for me to gain practical hands-on skills in the field of ecological restoration. I have worked on developing my plant identification skills of forest, meadow and prairie plants by working with the ecologists and spending lots of time outside doing field work. I also worked on several restoration projects including  invasive species removal and replanting of native tree and shrub species, planting native prairie species to restore important prairie habitat, and enhancing nesting habitat for tree swallows and Eastern bluebirds by putting up nest boxes.

A lot of the work in the Natural Lands department stems from the results of monitoring programs which I got to help with as well. These include; prairie monitoring to track the changes in prairie community composition after prescribed burns, Ecological Land Classification of RBG properties to map important habitat areas for species at risk and gain a thorough understanding of  the ecological communities present at RBG. Monitoring work I helped with also included breeding bird monitoring and migratory waterfowl surveys to keep track of bird populations at RBG. 

I am also working on my own independent project to monitor the rate of deer browse in the natural lands, and to come up with ways to increase the survival rate of future restoration plantings. A lot of our work also incorporates volunteer participation allowing me to engage the community in helping restore parts of the natural lands. We ran several volunteer events this year including tree, shrub and prairie planting events as well as butterfly and dragonfly/damselfly counts of the RBG property.

Overall this internship has provided me with a huge variety of learning experiences and opportunities. I would say that the highlight of the internship for me was doing the breeding bird surveys. It was a great opportunity to learn how to identify birds by sound and really opened my eyes to the amazing variety of birds we have in the area. And of course being out in the forest listening to birds, often before the sun had risen is a wonderful way to spend the work day.


Jenn McPhee – Botany Intern

My name is Jennifer McPhee, and I am this year’s Botany Intern. I had expected the botany intern position to consist of species identification and specimen processing, yet it has been much more than that. At the beginning of the internship term, I supervised a summer student and helped with the organization and management of the herbarium. During this time, I was able to develop and manage my own project and to partner with horticultural staff on a series of small projects.

At around the hal way point of the internship, I began learning what is involved in running a herbarium on a day to day basis, as well as what is necessary to plan for the long term goals of the collection. I received valuable, hands-on experience with specimen collection, identification, and processing, but I was also able to assist with collection curation, pest management, and public outreach. I feel as if I have been given many opportunities to improve my marketable skills and grow professionally. 


Christie Vandervlist – Education Interpretation Intern

For me, it was all about the smiles. The look on the faces of our visitors enjoying themselves while learning something new. That was my mission; to make learning about plants, animals, and this amazing paradise interesting, entertaining, and memorable. As the Education Interpretation Intern, I was involved in a plethora of different special events, activities, and programming on every aspect of RBG.

Whether it was dressing up as a fairy, condensing 300 words into only 30, or managing countless craft stations – it always came down to the visitors and their experience. I have gained so much experience and learned what interpretation is all about - communicating the fascinating world that is RBG in a manner that everyone understands and enjoys.

From sign writing and program templates, to exhibit planning and discovery carts; I’ve dipped my toes in a little bit of everything the education department does here. RBG has always felt like home to me, and I will treasure every memory of my short 12 months spent here.


Heather Wilton – Aquatic Ecology Intern

My internship involved varied activities within RBG’s marshlands, focused on Coote’s Paradise Marsh and Hendrie Valley. Major tasks included operation of the Fishway, monitoring of fish and aquatic plant species, water quality sampling, planting and restoration of marsh and shoreline areas, invasive species removal, and data compilation and report writing. Every day was different during my time at RBG, and one of the many highlights of the internship was being able to get up close to fish like Bowfin and Longnose Gar; species I hadn’t seen in person until I got the chance to work at the Fishway.

Being able to work outside with a wide range of plants and wildlife for such a large portion of my year here really made for a great experience.