Case study

Deputy head of discovery and learning — Phoebe Martin

Discover how Phoebe combines her passion for teaching with her love of animals

How did you get your job at the zoo?

After my wildlife conservation and zoo biology degree, I spent three years volunteering both in the UK and abroad. I spent time at The Monkey Sanctuary in Cornwall, in China with pandas, and in Thailand with elephants. I was trying to gain experience to become a zookeeper, but when I was in Thailand I started teaching villagers to speak English, and loved it.

I taught full time for a while, but missed the animals, which started me thinking about ways to combine the two. When I came back to the UK I started to look for educational roles in zoos.

It took six months or so to find my role at Dartmoor Zoo, because I didn't have much experience. This job was originally a temporary maternity cover post, but I took it anyway. Since then it has become permanent, and I have been able to complete a teaching qualification too.

How do you use your degree in your job?

I teach groups of primary children, work in local schools, and teach local animal courses on conservation, the history of zoos and ecology, so my degree is invaluable. I wouldn't have the knowledge base to create lessons without it.

What do you do day-to-day?

Most of my time is taken up with planning lessons and preparing resources for teaching. I also look after the collection of animals that we use for public engagement.

What are your long term plans?

I'd love to get a role as head of education, but this is a very small zoo, which means there are fewer opportunities to progress. The positive side of working in a small zoo is that I can get involved in lots of different projects, as we all tend to pitch in with what needs doing.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I love watching the children's faces light up when they get to handle an animal, and I enjoy igniting their passion for conservation. I also love that I can teach, but still be very involved with the animals on site.

What are the challenges?

It can get super busy. Sometimes we might have ten school groups on site, so trying to co-ordinate the children and give them all a great learning experience can be hard.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work at a zoo?

Although people often use other jobs in zoos as stepping stones to zoo keeping roles, it's important to show your passion for the specific role you are applying for, and to be sure you want to do that job.

Experience is key and any gained through teaching, training, giving talks, or generally helping people to understand ideas, will translate across to an educational role in a zoo.

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