Case study

Project manager — Zoe Turner

As project manager for the Kalahari Meerkat Project, Zoe has a unique opportunity to research and study meerkats in their natural habitat. Find out more about her role in this long-term research project

What degree did you study?

I studied for a BSc Hons Zoology at Aberystwyth University, graduating in 2019.

How did you get your job?

After seeing an online advert for volunteer research assistants with the Kalahari Research Trust's Meerkat Project, I applied to the project as a volunteer and was successful. After seven months, I took an opportunity to progress by taking on a sound manager position. After eight months in this role, I then moved onto managing the main meerkat project alongside the sound data management.

How relevant is your degree?

The basis of research carried out at the meerkat project is focused on data collection of animal behaviour and social communication. Without the background that my degree provided me with, I certainly wouldn't have been able to get into a project like this and to understand, and be excited by, the work carried out every single day.

What's a typical working day like?

Some days I'm based in the office organising a rota for the data collection by research assistants for the upcoming week across 14 habituated wild meerkat groups. I also spend time extracting and organising data for use by various researchers, writing reports and recruiting new research assistants for the upcoming year.

Other days I can be in the field habituating new wild groups of meerkats to increase our study population size, collecting adlib, scans or focal data of the meerkats, recording meerkat calls or even assisting film crews.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy the variety in my role as well as the opportunities to interact and network with scientists from all backgrounds with varying levels of expertise, yet all with a remarkably similar interest and focus on animal behaviour.

What are the challenges?

The work is in a remote location, which can make interactions with the outside world difficult. Despite this, there is always a great group of people for support, and it lends itself to many close friendships.  

Some aspects of behavioural data collection can also be extremely repetitive, so it encourages you to try to look at your work with new perspectives to really get the most out of it.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

I hope to still be working in research focused on animal behaviour. Working with the meerkat bioacoustics data has certainly given me an immense interest in the social complexity of species and their communication. I would like to pursue further study and research of my own should I be able to.

What advice can you give to others?

  • Open your mind up to opportunities you may not have thought of. There is always a new skill to be gained and pushing your boundaries may also help you to grow and build confidence as a person.
  • Network with as many people in your field of study/work as possible - that one time you say 'hello' to someone could be the start of a new opportunity.
  • Give it time. Don't expect to jump into your dream role immediately. You may need to take a few detours to get there, but you will find something that works for you.

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