Zoologish Profile: Sophie

Sophie is an MSci Zoology graduate who is soon off to work as a project manager in South Africa on the Dwarf Mongoose Project (where she was my wonderful roommate when we were research assistants!) – I’ll leave the rest for her to explain in her own words.

1. What’s your educational background?

I have just finished my MSci Zoology course at the University of Bristol. I say “just” … I mean four months ago. Desperately clinging on. During my four years there, I developed a keen interest in the topics of conservation and behavioural ecology, and the way in which studies into both can inform the other. Learning more about the behaviour of an animal can help to tailor conservation efforts more effectively towards a species. My final year project was assessing the reaction of a species of Drosophila to varying abiotic conditions. The result will enable us to further understand how climate warming may affect its long-term ecology, and the ecology of the species within its community. Didn’t work with anything cute or cuddly, but sometimes you’ve got to make sacrifices for the greater good.

2. Why did you decide to study Zoology?

I have been absolutely obsessed with animals and the different environments animals live in for as long as I can remember, so it was a pretty easy choice for me. I could try to not give David Attenborough, Michaela Strachan, and Steve Backshall credit for this obsession, but I would be lying. I lived in a fairly dreary area of the country (love you Scunthorpe), so I relied pretty heavily on TV to get my exotic-animal-fix.

It would be unfair to not mention my wonderful parents and their huge efforts to introduce my brother and I to the natural world. Be it Scotland, the Yorkshire Moors, the Spanish Pyrennes, or the Dordogne in France, we’d always be out and about looking for wildlife. I was always going to be a Zoologist! (I had a brief affair with the idea of Veterinary Science, but with the arrival of less than impressive AS results, this triggered the realisation that becoming a vet was not the animal saving I had wanted to do all those years ago when I watched David Attenborough on the telly.)

3. Do you have any other relevant qualifications?

Back in 2012, I did the Marine Mammal Medic course run by the BDMLR. I guess it was both a blessing and a curse that not very many strandings occurred in the Humber area of the coast; great for the marine mammals, not so great for Sophie’s first-class marine mammal life-saving skills. Still, I count this course as one of the first times I realised my love of marine animals.

During university, I joined the University of Bristol Underwater Club and learnt how to dive, and completed the Seasearch course. Seasearch is an initiative that aims to collect as much information about the geology and biodiversity of UK coastlines as possible, and this information is used by researchers to assess the impact climate change is having on UK waters. A great one if you’re working on your ID skills!

Up in the Farne Islands to dive with seals with the University of Bristol Underwater Club

4. What work/volunteer experience have you had?

I’ve certainly done my fair share of volunteering and work experience. When going into this industry, the more the better. Back in school, I ran a gardening club at a local primary school, had a couple weeks of work experience at a local, small-scale dairy, worked Saturday’s at a cattery, and had work experience shadowing surgeons at a veterinary practise. This all helps when applying to university!

Since then, I have been an intern at a research station in Mossel Bay, South Africa (Ocean’s Campus) assessing white shark populations and trialling non-invasive shark deterrent technology, and an intern at the Limpopo Dwarf Mongoose Project in South Africa helping with the collection of baseline data with the aim of learning more about their complex societal structure. Recently, I have been volunteering with the Avon Wildlife Trust, mainly visiting community centres and introducing children (of varying ages) living in inner-city communities to the natural world.


5. What are you up to right now?

Along with volunteering with the Avon Wildlife Trust and working at a local pub (did I mention none of the biology-related jobs I’ve done have been paid?), I am currently getting ready to go back out to the Dwarf Mongoose Project as the Project Manager for nine months. Yes, by far the closest I’ve ever been to an actual, relevant-to-zoology job! Not paid, but expenses paid, so could definitely be worse.

As PM, I oversee the data collection done by the three volunteers, and myself, on the project and make sure that it is all carried out and inputted correctly. It’s 6 days a week work, with only a couple weeks off, but I cannot wait. It truly is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and I’m thrilled to fully immerse myself in the environment. I may have been cripplingly terrified of the baboons on the reserve last time I was there, but I’m almost certain I’m over it…

6. Would you consider further study?

So I’ve been told once I’m settled in the job at the Dwarf Mongoose Project that I’m welcome to do some of my own research. I think this will be a wonderful opportunity to enjoy fieldwork without the pressure of deadlines, and finally decide whether it is what I want to pursue. I’ve never committed to the idea of further research, and I’ve also never out-right dismissed it. I’ll get back to you on that one!

7. What’s the dream job?

The dream job is pretty much being Michaela Strachan. As much as I’d like to say I’m not being serious, I am. However, if I bring myself back down to Earth and think about it again, I’d say it’s becoming a science journalist. I love writing, and I am passionate about communicating science with people who don’t necessarily connect with it on a daily basis. There has been a strange dynamic between scientists and the public recently (looking at no one in particular …) and I think it’s time that the public and the science community fully trust one another again. I think that responsibility lies with journalists especially, and I’d love to be a part of it!


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