This is me! I’m a recent Zoology graduate currently working an office job in Bristol. Over the next year I have two volunteer positions confirmed – at a seal rescue and rehabilitation centre in the Netherlands, and a sea turtle research project in Costa Rica.
1. What’s your educational background?
I’ve just finished BSc (Hons) Zoology at the University of Bristol.
2. Why did you decide to study Zoology?
Well I drew this picture when I was 5! But I wasn’t one of those people who always knew exactly what I wanted. As a kid I cycled through a whole range of fantasy careers and I didn’t re-settle on working with animals until I went to volunteer on a turtle conservation project when I was 16. I have a lot to say about that project, a lot of it not so good, but it definitely focused me on what I wanted. Marine biology was the initial dream and it still is the path I’d like to steer down, but I wanted to give myself a broader base of options at undergrad, so Zoology it was.
3. Do you have any other relevant qualifications?
It’s hard to say what’s relevant. At uni I got really into SCUBA diving and have been working through my BSAC diving qualifications, as well as courses in boat handling and maintenance. This also led me to do the SeaSearch Observer Course on surveying British marine life. All of that might come in useful one day, or it might not. It wouldn’t upset me to never use diving in my work, because I know I’ll always be doing it for fun anyway. But if the knowledge I’ve gained about boats and safety at sea were to become relevant, I’d be pretty happy.
There are a lot of other courses I want to do; it’s just trying to find the time and money (obviously).
4. What work/volunteer experience have you had?
So the first project I joined was the turtle one I mentioned when I was 16. This was in Mexico for a month. This came at quite a considerable cost that wasn’t really justified. A longer post on ecotourism and baby-Hayley’s experiences will follow, but it isn’t an exaggeration to say it was life defining.
I didn’t do anything else until the summer after my first year of uni. I decided to use the money I’d saved from my part time job to travel around Greece for a month having a great time, and part of that was a week I spent with the Tethys Research Institute’s Ionian Dolphin Project. This involved boat surveys and photo-ID work.
In my second year I spent a few months volunteering one afternoon per week as a Ranger at Bristol Zoo, speaking to members of the public about animals and the zoo’s conservation efforts abroad. I have pretty conflicted feelings on zoos and still am not sure how I feel about having this on my CV. However it does demonstrate public speaking and outreach skills that are important for a lot of projects.
The summer after second year I went out to the Limpopo Dwarf Mongoose Project as a research assistant. I had to pay for my own flights but all food and accommodation were covered. We worked 6 days a week with habituated mongoose groups, collecting baseline data and carrying out experiments. This was my first real experience of being ‘staff’ on a project and it was a lot of work, but an absolute joy. I was meant to stay for 3 months but due to some unfortunate circumstances, had to leave after only 1. I still learned a lot and may one day return to the project if they’ll have me!
5. What are you up to right now?
Right now I’m working in an admin role at an office. I’m exactly one week in. This is dull on many levels but has all the attributes I wanted from a temporary I-need-some-money job – it’s in Bristol, and the hours are a revolutionary 9-5, Monday-Friday. I’ve never experienced this before. It means I can spend my spare time with my boyfriend and several of my friends who have grown up ‘real jobs’, go away on the weekends, and get 8 hours of sleep a night. Amazing! Further musings on the downsides of office work and the civil service when I’ve left and can’t be fired.
6. Would you consider further study?
I am very strongly considering it, specifically MRes Marine Biology at Plymouth. I think I’ve talked myself into applying so I (hopefully) have the option, but I haven’t quite talked myself into doing it. There’s a lot of contradictory advice out there on how useful having a Masters really is, as opposed to spending that time and money gaining practical experience. I have seen a lot of positions asking for one though, and I think a respected Masters might be a good way of showing you’re serious. I also really miss being a student already!
7. What’s the dream job?
Honestly, something in marine mammal research, rescue and rehabilitation. The first animals that really inspired me to want to work with them were turtles, but having spent some time diving with seals and following dolphins on a boat, it’s hard to deny the charisma of our warm-blooded, breastfeeding friends (mammals: described by one of the rangers at Bristol Zoo as ‘the furry ones with the tits’). I definitely wouldn’t be upset to work with turtles though! As a UK diver, even marine microlife is pretty fascinating to me.
As an aside, it also wouldn’t be the end of the world to work in terrestrial Zoology for the right opportunity. But if we’re talking about the real dream, marine mammals is it.
8. Do you have any advice for anyone studying or considering studying Zoology?
Do it! But don’t expect it to be a quick or easy road to what you really want to be doing. Apply for everything, nag your lecturers for opportunities, keep an open mind to everything and several open browser tabs on job sites at all times.