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Becoming a docent next year. Help?

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by blackfootedcat, 14 Jun 2013.

  1. blackfootedcat

    blackfootedcat New Member

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    I just had my interview for Docent Council at the Philadelphia Zoo for this coming year. It sounded very promising, and I really liked the people I interviewed with, but I'm a little bit confused about it. It seems like such a respected position, but not only is it not paid, but it seems like it doesn't do much for a resume or for getting your foot in the door at the Zoo.

    I'm not so much worried about the volunteer aspect. I knew that going in and the experience sounds so amazing that I don't mind it being volunteer. I am, however, bothered by the fact that it seems like a huge commitment for not much benefit in terms of advancing my career in conservation education/animal care/general zoo work/etc. I was a bit turned off by the fact that it seemed like the position was completely isolated, and once you had it, you either keep it or you leave and that was that. The man and woman I was interviewing with had been docents for 35 and 20+ years respectively, and had no other animal-related jobs that they informed me of.

    I am very passionate about animals and I want to work with them in some capacity someday, whether that be running a dog boarding facility, working in animal-assisted therapy or being a conservation education specialist at a zoo. I have not been able to break into animal work with any sort of paid position, and I am very passionate about conservation education especially, so I figured the Docent Council would be a great way to get my start and move on to paid positions. Now I'm not so sure.

    Has anyone had experience with a docent council? Did it lead to anything more career-oriented, or at least look good on a resume?
     
  2. Shenandoah

    Shenandoah Member

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    I have not worked as a docent, but just in general terms - all experience looks good on a resume to some extent. Volunteer work shows a commitment and desire to go above and beyond. As a docent you will gain skills working with the public, which is important.

    That said, as far as getting an animal care job, it probably won't help a whole lot (other than maybe a tie-breaker if it's between you and someone with similar experience). Ask the zoo if there are any opportunities to later move into animal positions - sometimes zoos prefer volunteers from within, so it might get you a leg up on those. Most of the docents at my zoo do it because that's what they want to do, not because they're looking to move on, so that's why they stick around for a while. The assistant keeper volunteers are the ones looking to get the animal experience for a career.

    If that zoo doesn't let volunteers work with the animals, see if there's another zoo nearby, or look for a wildlife rehabilitation facility or exotic animal sanctuary. If you are specifically interested in zoos, wildlife and exotic experience is best. If you want to do anything animal, then also look into volunteering at the local humane society, animal shelter, pet rescue, or similar. Any of those places are usually actively looking for volunteers.
     
  3. blackfootedcat

    blackfootedcat New Member

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    Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. It was very helpful.

    I am not sure exactly what direction I want to go in with animals yet, and I have been inquiring with animal shelters as well as the zoo. I actually was interested in volunteering at the shelters first but none of them responded to me. My dream animal job would be to run a no-kill cat rescue, but I know that I wouldn't be able to make a living, so I moved on to conservation education as a second choice, as I am passionate about that as well. I was hoping that the docent job could lead into the conservation education teacher position, but after reading what you had to say I'm more worried that that is probably not the case.

    I might stick to animal shelters for now and see where that leads me. I'm not sure I can commit to 2+ years of being a docent if it won't do anything for my résumé and future prospects.
     
  4. Shenandoah

    Shenandoah Member

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    I'm not sure exactly what a conservation education teacher does, but if it's not a direct animal care position then the docent work might very well help you.

    How did you try to contact the shelters? Email? Many aren't that technologically advanced. Did you call them? Stop in if they have a permanent location? Go to their fundraisers and special event days?
    If you want something, sometimes you have to put in the extra effort to make it happen.
     
  5. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

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    Do you have any nature centers near by you with live animals? Out here in California that are several nature education centers that have non-releasable wild animal ambassadors (hawks, bobcats, skunks, opossums, etc.). Some of these places have wildlife rehab programs and many volunteer opportunities for both nature education and learning to directly care for wildlife. This type of place might meet all of your needs in terms of experience, and if nothing else you could informationally interview the professional staff there about how they got their jobs and how one gets on the career path.

    This is one of the places I'm talking about: Lindsay Wildlife Museum :: Connecting people with wildlife since 1955
    If you can't find a similar place in the Philly area then maybe you could contact this museum and ask if they know of any contacts in your area.
     
  6. DavidBrown

    DavidBrown Well-Known Member

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  7. blackfootedcat

    blackfootedcat New Member

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    A conservation education teacher is basically a paid docent. I'm not sure if it exists at other zoos, but at our zoo they teach classes for kids or help with field trips and tours, etc. Do you think being a docent would help with this? Does this exist at other zoos or is it something that is purely based on having an environmental education degree/only volunteer?

    It's interesting what you said about the shelters. There were two that I was especially interested in and tried calling a few times, only to be sent straight to voicemail. They actually mentioned that they preferred email, but I wanted to try something more direct. I haven't received any answers from either option- email or phone- from either place. One place has answered back but they want all kinds of vet information from me about my pets.
     
  8. blackfootedcat

    blackfootedcat New Member

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    Thanks DavidBrown. I will definitely look into this. I don't really know of anything like that close to me but it sounds perfect. I've volunteered at something similar but they didn't have any live animals; just taught about them. Thanks a lot for your help!