Case study

Zoologist — Adam Mitchell

Adam gained his undergraduate degree in zoology at Aberystwyth University and is now working on an island in the Indian Ocean with giant tortoise and frigate bird populations

Where do you work?

The Aldabra World Heritage Site for the Seychelles Islands Foundation. I found this job when a colleague of mine posted it on a Facebook group on behalf of the research group of a contact of hers.

In what way is your zoology degree relevant?

Much of what I've learned, I learned after my degree, but my studies did give me a lot more direction with regards to the areas of zoology I wanted to pursue more (and those I did not).

What's it like working as a zoologist?

Usually I work 7am until 7pm with a two hour lunch break (it's too hot in the middle of the day to work). I spend about half of my time in the office doing database work and the other half in the field carrying out biological monitoring, anything from giant tortoise transects, to tagging nesting turtles, to censuses of frigate bird populations, depending on the time of the month or year. Much of the monitoring is tide dependent, so sometimes I go out at 6am. Once, every couple of months, we camp on isolated parts of the island to carry out monitoring.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

It's extremely varied; it includes both the computer and field work, so you rarely get bored. I also get to be one of only a handful of people who have ever lived here. Aldabra is a highly-protected and isolated World Heritage site, so I'm literally living on a desert island.

What are the challenges of your work?

The fieldwork; terrain here is difficult and dangerous to traverse and it can get extremely hot. Communication with home can often be poor, although with satellite internet it's a lot better than it was even a few years ago. The isolation can sometimes be difficult - living with the same 10 people with supply boats coming at most every two months.

How has your career developed and what are your future ambitions?

I started my career as a zookeeper but I've moved to working in remote field sites and increasingly more in operations than directly with animals. Eventually, I'd like to run my own small research station.

What advice can you give to others wanting to become a zoologist?

  • Volunteer as a research assistant for a university, large conservation organisation or similar; unlike many profit-making 'volunteer' organisations, they're not out to make any money from you. Most will pay a small stipend, which may be enough to keep you in profit during your stay.
  • Go the extra mile: I started several positions as a volunteer; if you work harder than others and take the initiative there is often a position waiting down the line. I ended up managing a cutting-edge behavioural field laboratory in South Africa for the University of Cambridge in exactly this way.
  • Network: keep in touch with everyone and add them on Facebook or LinkedIn. Take an interest in what they're doing and offer to help.
  • Learn extra things: what makes you stand out? Learn a programming language, how to use databases or how to fix simple electronics.

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