Brianna Woodhead

Brianna Woodhead
Brianna Woodhead

Internship at

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)

Brianna is a fifth-year Bachelor of Laws (Honours)/Science (Psychology) student. She recently finished her college-arranged internship with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).

What are the top three key lessons you have learned?

  1. Your experience is what you make it. For me, it was about replacing the ‘what are they going to teach me’ mindset, with a ‘what can I learn from this’. The more I took responsibility for the learning process, the more involved I became, and the more opportunities presented themselves. This way, I met more people, gained unique insights into the subject matter I was researching, and took on advice
  2. The importance of sitting down with my supervisor/manager and talk about their expectations as well as my own. Asking the tricky questions then establishes a clear, open and necessary professional relationship, and not only makes it far easier to approach them later on, but also gives me a benchmark for my time, effort, performance and goals throughout the internship.
  3. To take a notepad and pen everywhere. A lot of useful information comes out of meetings and general conversations and I’d easily forget it if I didn’t write it down! ALWAYS ask when they want a task to be completed by. They often breeze over this point, and needing a case summary by tomorrow is very different from needing it next week. Getting this type of information straight away also saves unnecessary back and forth, which can be hard if they are busy.

What advice would you offer current students embarking on an internship or new job?

Don’t always wait for other people in your team to introduce themselves to you. Etiquette can be hard to judge when entering an unfamiliar workplace, but don’t let this stop you from reaching out to the people around you. Some are so busy they never get the chance to meet the interns. Be confident, and if the time is right, go introduce yourself. These people often have a wealth of knowledge - I learnt so much just from conversations over coffee.

How did you apply what you have learned in the classroom during the internship?

My studies in law were useful on a day to day basis during the internship. Broadly speaking, this included problem-solving, research skills, the ability to distil large amounts of information into useful bite-sized chunks, to work independently and to work to tight deadlines. Something that really stuck out, and I hadn’t used for more years of my degree than I’d like to admit (sorry to the library staff, you were right) was Boolean operators. They save so much time!

Also, ANU Law has been good at getting students to both apply the law and question how that law came to be, and whether it serves its purpose. My role at AIATSIS involved conducting research and producing a paper on native title compensation – an area of law that is somewhat patchworked and unsettled. Being able to draw a clear line here was difficult, but the critical lens taught in a range of law courses helped me to distinguish between the way a system practically operates and the way it would ideally operate - identifying all parts in between that need work, and the consequences of applying an imperfect system. In essence, it was applying the ability to work practically while balancing awareness of the broader picture. Both are important in the legal field.

Would you recommend undertaking an internship to other ANU Law students?

Absolutely! It’s like learning the rules of a board game, then actually being able to play. It’s also a game we can’t lose. If you discover that you love working in that area, you’ve gained valuable direction that otherwise could have taken years to figure out. If you find out you don’t like it, then you’ve upskilled and gained the knowledge to redirect your career path. Either way, there’s a lot to learn from both the environment and work.


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Brianna Woodhead

FDD Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and Bachelor of Science (Psychology)
Degree Type

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team