Year 2 scholar Madison Bradburn is completing her summer 2019 internship at Cooper Creek Trout Farm in Swain County, NC. Madison’s supervisor, Gerry Laschober, is very grateful to have her as an intern for the second summer in a row: “Trout fingerlings are very sensitive to ultraviolet light and Madison has developed a curtain that we can use to reduce their exposure to it.”
What do you enjoy most about your internship? I most enjoy how satisfying it is to watch my fish grow up. I raise 250,000 trout by hand from their eggs and getting to watch their development is amazing. My favorite parts are the hatching and the swimming up process (which is when the newborn fish fully absorb their egg sacs and learn how to swim). The better of a job I do, the more fish live and the better they grow. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that I’m doing a good job when I see all of my trout happy and healthy.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome so far in your internship? What tools did you use to overcome it? Anxiety. Raising so many fish at once means anything can go wrong at any time. It is nerve-wracking. One wrong slip and I could damage equipment or kill some of the fish. I don’t want to hurt my fish, seeing them happy is, as I answered above, my favorite part of the internship so seeing them get hurt is my least. I’m working at the same internship site as last year and during that experience my supervisor and I made a huge mistake while working on hatching new eggs. The mistake ended up killing around 80,000 fish in one day and coming back to the site I have struggled with anxiety over causing that sort of catastrophe again. This time when we hatched eggs I was nervous and tense; redoing something that I had failed immensely at before was much harder than I’d anticipated even though Gerry assured me last year that it wasn’t my fault. What most helped me overcome my nerves was my coworkers encouraging me and Gerry being so understanding that I was nervous. When I utilized and listened to my team, I felt better and more assured with myself. This year has really taught me to not be scared and to rely on others, and hatching went perfectly this time around!
What aspect or element of the Golden LEAF Scholars Leadership Program has been particularly helpful during your internship? Communication. This last conference specifically we did a lot of exercises involving communication and I’ve found that a lot of the skills we practiced there have helped me this summer. We did one exercise involving describing shapes and colors while we were blindfolded and while I kind of felt silly at the time, a lot of the problem solving I’ve had to do this summer has reminded me of that exercise. Cooper Creek is split into five main parts: the hatchery where I work, the outside tanks, the lake, the catch-out, and the gift shop. Communicating problems across these spaces can be difficult especially considering that, due to hygiene protocols, I can’t enter certain spaces or I risk carrying in contaminates on my shoes the next time I go to the hatchery. Certain people can’t enter the hatchery for the same reason. Verbal communication is difficult when separated and surrounded by constant running water, so I’ve learned how to use hand signals to tell Gerry if the hatchery is in good condition or if it isn’t, what is wrong. It’s a very odd sort of language, but it works for us.
How has your internship enhanced your ability to move forward in your field of study? I’ve been studying the texts we have on site and comparing them to my own notes. What I want as a writer and as someone who loves science and farming is for information to be more accessible. A lot of the information we have is complicated and drawn out and, to a degree, it serves its purpose, but farming in the real world is so different from testing variables in a lab and writing at a desk. I want to be able to make a more practical guide to fish farming and being on-site has definitely helped me grasp what’s most important to communicate. I’m even learning stuff that I haven’t found in the in site text! I’m excited to add what I’m learning to the farm!
Which professional-level skill(s) listed by your supervisor has/have proved to be the most challenging to develop? Honesty. Like I said, anxiety is a big hurdle on the farm and as a result it can be hard to go to my supervisor as say “I made this mistake.” or “There’s a problem.” I don’t want things to go wrong, so sometimes when they do I can be tempted to just ignore the problems, but that’s not professional and it’s not good for my fish. Communicating failures is an essential part of not only this internship, but of any job, and it’s very stressful, but necessary. I think a good professional skill to have is being able to take feedback, even negative. It’s hard to admit you messed up, or that you were wrong, but sometimes you have to and I think that’s the professional level skill I’m really learning in this internship. Taking responsibility for mistakes may not be fun, but it’s better than letting problems fester.