Timothy Heffernan

Social Science
Summer 2015

Located on the edge of Canberra’s beautiful Lake Burley Griffin, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) is an eminent centre for Indigenous affairs, housing a vast collection of artefacts and resources, and home to many celebrated researchers and practitioners. During the 2015 university summer holidays, I had the great fortune to work alongside Dr Rod Kennett and Dr Tran Tran at the Centre for Land and Water Research, AIATSIS through the Aurora Internship Program. Prior to my arrival, I expected to assist my supervisors on existing research projects wherever possible. However, to my surprise, on my first day I was given two novel research projects to work on independently – one concerning Indigenous livelihoods on country, the other with community-based management strategies for land and sea territories. What’s more, I was introduced to a team of professionals and was lucky enough to attend symposia featuring accomplished academics and researchers in the area of Indigenous affairs, both nationally and internationally. It became evident soon after arriving that AIATSIS was no ordinary institute, but rather an internationally connected, dynamic centre for research, law and policy development.

Throughout my internship I made extensive reference to my knowledge of Australian Indigenous anthropology, the Native Title Act, and utilised my skills in researching, planning and report writing. As such, my time at AIATSIS enabled me to gain professional experience following on from my undergraduate studies. Further, I received training in data entry and database management and analysis which further widened my professional and practical skillset. In undertaking an internship at AIATSIS, I opted to temporarily relocate from Sydney to Canberra. Let there be no doubt, this was at times challenging and I experienced moments of homesickness. However, with the support of Rod and Tran and staff at the Aurora Project I found that my time in Canberra enabled me to refine my networking skills, get to know another area of Australia, and develop my maturity. For these reasons, I cannot recommend enough the prospect of travelling interstate to undertake an Aurora Internship.

Following on from my internship, I have been retained on a part-time basis at AIATSIS to develop a database on Indigenous livelihoods on country. This appointment brings me closer to my career goal of becoming a researcher in the Indigenous sector. Moreover, it is familiarising me with the processes of writing grant applications, publishing research, and organising conferences and research presentations. Therefore, I think there is great advantage in undertaking an Aurora internship following on from university studies, as it allows graduates to gain an understanding of how the fields of research and public policy operate and introduce them to potential employers and networks. In saying this, students who undertake an internship during their university holidays also have the advantage of refining their interests in the area of Indigenous affairs while still studying – this may be particularly useful for students wishing to undertake an Honours year. I therefore encourage all interested students and graduates in law, anthropology and the social sciences to apply for an Aurora Internship. For more information, and to hear from other interns about their experiences, visit http://www.auroraproject.com.au/aurorainternshipprogram.