Case study

Zoologist (field assistant) — Christine Smith

Christine explains how getting work experience and networking are key to getting into zoology

How did you get your job?

I found out about the field centre through researching online, kept a look out for any opportunities and a field assistant role came up

Is your degree relevant to your job?

My zoology degree gave me a good grounding in the scientific methods we use during field research, as well as an overview of the current issues in biodiversity conservation. I use my scientific writing skills daily.

What's your working day like?

I get up at 6am, head to the jetty and travel by boat to our field site. Field work involves setting up transects, checking mammal traps, installing trail cameras, climbing trees to install an orangutan bridge, tracking elephants, looking for a family group of proboscis monkeys, clearing trails and general site maintenance.

I sleep for an hour or two during the hottest part of the day. Later in the afternoon the electricity generator is switched on and I do office work. This usually involves making an e-copy of field notes and surveys, updating databases, cataloguing photos from trail cameras, writing reports and reading scientific journals.

In the evening, I eat dinner in the canteen and then go to the field sites for night surveys; like doing line transects looking for frogs, radio telemetry surveys to track a radio collared tarsier and slow loris, nocturnal mammal trapping and netting for baby crocodiles.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

It's fantastic working outside every day in the rainforest, surrounded by such amazing biodiversity. I'm passionate about conservation, which is the focus of the research at the field centre. I enjoy the variety of the work as well; field, office and laboratory work.

My zoology degree gave me a good grounding in the scientific methods we use during field research

What are the challenges?

The field centre is in a remote part of the rainforest, so conditions can be hard and are very hot, humid and muddy. I'm covered in mosquito bites and leeches. There is only cold water to shower with, no air conditioning, very limited internet access, very few chances to call home and only a few hours of electricity every day. I had to get used to sharing my shower cubicle with a tarantula, and once came close to stepping on a python.

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

My role at the field centre has been an incredible experience and has laid the foundations for a career in biodiversity conservation. However, I've decided that field research isn't a sustainable lifestyle for me and want a more office-based role in conservation.

What advice can you give to others wanting to get into zoology?

It's a very competitive field, with plenty of people willing to work for free just to gain experience. Many jobs are not permanent so it's not a field to get into if you crave stability.

Zoology is a broad field, so try to decide what general area you want to be working in and get as much relevant experience (voluntary or paid) as you can before you graduate. If you can get a good combination of field, lab and office work it will make you a lot more desirable to potential employers.

A lot of opportunities come up through word of mouth or because someone recommended you, so get networking.

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