Drone-based ecology traineeship (2 positions)


These positions are a part of the Open Forest Observatory project, hosted by the FOCAL Lab at UC Davis.

This is a 9-month paid traineeship position for current UC Davis undergraduate students with an expected graduation date of fall 2024 or later. There are two positions available. The positions include training and computer-based research experience during the school year (approx. 3-8 hours/week) and (for one of the positions) full-time fieldwork during summer 2024. The positions begin in early spring quarter 2024 (both positions), continue through summer 2024 (one position), and end in late fall quarter 2024 (both positions).

The trainees will learn skills in using drones for forest ecology research, including field-based skills (drone piloting, ground-based field validation data collection) and computer-based skills (drone imagery processing and analysis). The trainees will work with Open Forest Observatory scientists.

In spring quarter 2024, the trainees will spend most of their traineeship time (approx. 3-5 hours/week) studying for and taking the exam to receive their FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate via a standalone online course and mentorship provided by FOCAL Lab PI Derek Young. They will spend a small amount of time assisting in drone data processing and/or field planning tasks under the mentorship of FOCAL Lab members.

In summer quarter 2024, the trainee who participates in fieldwork will work almost entirely in the field (trips of ~8 days at a time, returning to Davis between each). They will serve as the assistant to a professional drone pilot. Work will involve walking off-trail through the forest to assist with the drone operation as a visual observer. The trainee will also spend some time as the primary pilot under the supervision of the professional drone pilot. The final month of the field season may include traditional plot surveys to collect ground-based reference data (vegetation inventories) to support drone imagery analyses. Field conditions can be harsh, and the applicant must have prior outdoor experience demonstrating their ability to work in these conditions.

In fall quarter 2024, the trainees will work in the FOCAL lab for 3-8 hours/week to assist in processing the drone-based and plot-based field data that was collected over the summer and begin initial analyses. Training and mentorship will be provided.


$16/hr. Training and FAA exam study time are paid hours. Internship credit can also be arranged.


Fall 2024 (both trainees), summer 2024 (one trainee), spring 2024 (both trainees). Part-time work during the school year and full-time work during the summer.

Both trainees will be expected to attend a paid weekend field training at Blodgett Forest Research Station the weekend of May 25-26. This training will include hands-on drone piloting, mission planning, and data management experience, as well as basic field skills including navigation and camping.

The trainee participating in full-time summer fieldwork will start their first field hitch on June 19 and will work at least 4, likely more, hitches (see Summer fieldwork schedule, below).


  • During the summer: remote forested field sites in California, Oregon, and potentially other western U.S. states. (Duty station: UC Davis, Davis, CA)
  • During the school year: office/computer space in the FOCAL Lab at UC Davis (with a remote component permitted)

Summer work logistics

One professional drone pilot and one trainee will form one team and work as a team throughout the summer. Due to the remoteness of the field sites, the trainee should expect to spend up to 8 consecutive days in the field (see Work schedule, below) with relocations of camp (included in work hours) during each hitch.

Field conditions

Field conditions will often be hot with little shade, but can also be very cold and potentially wet. The work will involve extensive camping, usually with no facilities like bathrooms or running water. The trainee must have prior outdoor experience demonstrating their ability to work in the sometimes harsh field conditions. If you don’t have this experience, please see the section “What if I don’t have enough outdoor experience?” below.

Field gear

All necessary field equipment will be provided. Communal camping gear (e.g., water jugs and cooking gear) will also be provided. Camping gear (basic tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad) will be provided. The trainees will be responsible for their own field clothing.


While conducting fieldwork, the trainees will primarily be car camping near the project study sites on National Forests. Camping will often be “dispersed camping” (undeveloped areas with no facilities, adjacent to remote roads) but will occasionally be in campsites (with campsite fees paid by employer). Camping location will change frequently as the team moves to different study areas.

Summer fieldwork schedule

The default summer work schedule will generally consist of 8 consecutive 10-hour days followed by 6 days off (80 work hours every 2 weeks), beginning and ending on Wednesdays. The 8-day hitches may include 1-2 days of office work, usually the last of the 8 days, to document the previous field period and prepare for the next. Field campaigns will begin and end at the duty station in Davis, CA. Travel between Davis and the field sites, and between field sites, is included in work hours. Although active flying periods will not exceed 6 hours per day, the remaining hours are spent scouting the next day’s flight location, moving camp (if necessary), and charging/maintaining equipment. In some cases, it may be logistically most practical for the first and last days of a hitch to be half-days, spreading the 8 days (80 hours) of work over 9 days. The drone pilot will arrange and coordinate the schedule with the trainee and the position supervisor to achieve the greatest efficiency.

During fire season, smoke and fire hazards may necessitate rapid adjustments to work location or schedule (e.g., shifting departure and/or return dates to avoid hazardous fire weather conditions). In the event of extended periods of fire or smoke hazards, the position supervisor will work to identify alternative work locations that avoid hazards, but during peak fire season, continuous full-time employment cannot be guaranteed.

Field transportation

The trainee will be expected to share in driving a UC Davis fleet vehicle to the field sites.

What if I don’t have enough outdoor experience?

For the trainee who will perform summer fieldwork, outdoor experience is required so that we know you are comfortable in the types of conditions you will encounter in this position. We expect to offer a similar position next year, so we encourage you to get some outdoor experience and then check back next year. Outdoor experience does not need to be from a job! We encourage you to go on some camping or backpacking trips with UCD Outdoor Adventures. Especially valuable is “dispersed camping” without facilities like bathrooms or running water, where you have to bring everything you’ll need, as those are the sorts of conditions we work in. We can also arrange an opportunity for you to come out to the field for 2-3 days during summer 2024 to observe the fieldwork and get a feel for the field conditions. If you are interested in this opportunity, please email FOCAL Lab PI Derek Young (djyoung@ucdavis.edu).

Minimum qualifications

Note: The minimum qualifications for this position will be adhered to strictly. If you do not meet the minimum qualifications, we are unfortunately unable to consider you for this position. We will offer a similar position next year, so we encourage you to build your qualifications and check back next year.

For both trainees:

  • UCD undergraduate student in ecology, natural resource management, or related field
  • Coursework or practical experience working with quantitative data, such as a stats class
  • Strong quantitative and organizational skills

For the trainee performing summer fieldwork:

  • Experience hiking and camping in remote locations with no facilities
  • Ability to maintain a positive attitude in physically harsh and/or demanding conditions
  • Valid driver’s license and willingness to drive to and between remote field sites
  • CPR and Wilderness First Aid certified (certification may be accomplished after job offer is made, with registration cost paid by the employer)

Desired qualifications

  • Experience working with geospatial data (e.g., GIS)
  • Experience with scripted analysis in R and/or Python
  • Skilled navigating on- and off-trail using topographic maps, compass, and handheld GPS units
  • Excellent organizational skills for planning, data management, and equipment management

To apply

Please submit a cover letter (including your interest in the position, relevant experience, and availability dates), CV/resume, and contact information for three references (including name, organization, email, and relationship to you) using this Google form. The form includes more detailed instructions. Review of applications will begin January 22, 2024. Apply by this data for full consideration. Applications submitted after this date may be considered depending on availability. For questions about the position, contact Derek Young, djyoung@udavis.edu.