Case study

Masters student Zoo Conservation Biology — Ursula Hart

Ursula is currently studying a Masters with the hopes of moving into a career researching parrot behaviour

What was your undergraduate degree and where did you study?

I studied a BSc in Animal Conservation Science at Plymouth University, graduating in 2016. I am currently working on gaining my Masters in Zoo Conservation Biology at the same university.

Why did you choose to do a Masters?

I heard about the course at a postgraduate open day and I liked the links to research, which I've always been interested in.

I'm thinking of a PhD in the future, so the Masters seemed like a good stepping stone.

How relevant is your first degree to what you are studying now?

My degree was really relevant, with content overlap, and allowed me to hit the ground running. Also, completing the BSc made me feel I was capable of studying at Masters level. I learned vital research skills during my undergraduate degree, which have been invaluable in my Masters.

What does your course involve?

The course is practical and includes keeper work experience. We meet different zoo staff from research, education, animal husbandry, business and marketing. Some lectures are at Paignton Zoo and we also carry out behavioural research there. I recently spent 20 hours observing animals at the zoo for a mini research project.

What do you enjoy about your postgraduate course?

It's such a great opportunity to talk to people in all sorts of zoo-based roles, and build up an understanding of the profession, as well as listening to different views. I enjoy the practical side of the degree and how varied it is.

What are the challenges?

Obviously a Masters is much harder than an undergraduate degree. I spend more time reading and doing independent study than I did at undergraduate level, so it requires more commitment and energy.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

In five years' time I'd love to have completed a PhD, but it's more likely that I'll still be doing it.

Preferably, I will find one focussing on parrots, and I'd rather wait for a funded PhD in this area than just go with any PhD that comes up. I would like to work in research, specifically parrot conservation or behaviour.

What advice can you give to others?

I'd advise other people interested in a Masters that they should go for it, even if they are worried that they may not be good enough. A postgraduate degree is a great way to stretch yourself and prove what you can achieve.

I would also advise them to ask questions - if you see a course but are unsure if it's right for you, speak to the academics or to students on the course and ask lots of questions.

How essential is your Masters to getting your chosen job?

Jobs in zoos are so competitive. Most of the recently employed zoo staff I have spoken to have a Masters. For research roles I will definitely need postgraduate qualifications.

Do you also need work experience?

To work with animals in the future I will need work experience. Luckily there are opportunities for this built into the course. I didn't need experience to get onto the Masters though, but I think the experience I already had helped with my application.

What are your top tips for choosing a Masters?

Talk to people on the programme, and prepare some questions beforehand. Make sure the Masters is actually relevant to your career ideas by looking at the course details and talking to academics.

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