Case study

Volunteer coordinator and public engagement officer — Molly Ellis

Molly's work as a volunteer paved the way to a full-time job at a zoo. Find out about her daily activities

How did you get your job at a zoo?

During my zoology degree, I spent time at a wildlife conservation research project in Borneo. Although it was amazing to be in a remote place in the middle of the jungle seeing conservation work first hand, it struck me that hardly anyone knew about it. I'd always loved talking to people about conservation and persuading them to take action. I wanted to reach as many people as possible and share what I'd learned.

Returning home after graduation, I contacted Dartmoor Zoo to see if there were any volunteering opportunities. I volunteered at the zoo for one day per week, while also working in a pub. Gradually this increased to two, then three days. After six months of volunteering, my current post came up. I was able to apply, and because I already had a great understanding of volunteering at the zoo, as well as knowing all the staff, and being familiar with public engagement, I got the job.

How relevant is your zoology degree to your job?

It's really critical. I use a lot of the learning from my degree for my talks, so I can really bring a depth of information when I am talking about particular animals, or habitats. I often refer to bits of fieldwork, or papers we studied.

The practical skills I gained in husbandry and animal handling help me to manage the animal collection that we use for public engagement.

What are your main work activities?

I might be meeting with people interested in volunteering, training volunteers to give talks to the public and groups of school children, or teaching students who are taking animal courses through local colleges.

I also spend time looking after the animal collection we use for working with the public, which is made up of snakes, reptiles and small mammals.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I love seeing volunteers find their confidence in giving talks to groups of children, or to other visitors at the zoo. Most of them start off feeling very unsure about their public speaking skills, so it's amazing to see them develop.

What are the challenges?

There is more admin to do than I would like. It's hard to find desk time to fill out volunteer records and to file paperwork.

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

Volunteering is the best thing you can invest time in as it shows commitment and motivation. Find out about animal or conservation-based organisations near your university, then contact them and see if you can get involved.

Volunteer in your first year of university, or your second at the latest. You'll have more study commitments in your final year, which will give you less flexibility to really get stuck in.

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