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Career Advice/Graduate Degree

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by capybara, 15 Apr 2017.

  1. capybara

    capybara Member

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    Hello everyone!

    So I am a non-traditional student (24yo) earning my Bachelors degree in Animal Science and concentrating in Animal Management. I have an Associates degree in Biology. I have worked primarily in the veterinary field but realized long ago that I am more interested in husbandry than veterinary work. I have very much considered becoming a zookeeper for most of my life. I have (what I would consider) significant animal experience - veterinary (wellness, specialty, and emergency), cat rescue, farm work (livestock - chickens, goats, sheep, cows), and most importantly, zoo volunteer experience. My zoo volunteer experience is going on 3 years of on and off volunteering around the semesters. I have a strong recommendation from the lead zookeeper/volunteer coordinator there. I am considering volunteering at a different zoo starting this summer.

    First, I am a full-time student but I also work full-time to support myself. I was accepted to all zoo internships I applied to for this summer but was unable to accept them due to finances. I do not see this situation changing. For that reason I will not be able to complete an internship during school. I am not sure if my volunteer experience (by the time I graduate it will be 5+ years), and my other experience and education will be enough to get a position as a zookeeper. Many job ads want many years of paid experience working with specific animals and I just will not have that.

    Second, I am considering applying to Colorado State for their PSM in Zoo, Aquarium, and Shelter Management. Is there anyone who has completed this program and could speak with me about it? I am looking to move up in zoo management eventually.

    Another option I was considering, was completing a more specialized long-term paid internship/apprenticeship after undergrad. I have seen job ads for these and think that may help make up for the lack of internships?

    Thank you!
     
  2. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    I will give you my two cents worth, but that is about all it is worth as I have never worked at a zoo in a paid position. However I did volunteer at an AZA accredited zoo for over a decade. I know that whenever that zoo (a small city zoo of 22 acres) announced an opening, they would typically receive over a hundred applications from all across the country. A college degree in biology or zoology or another life science is an absolute necessity these days. It sounds like you will have that covered. Hands on experience is another necessity and it sounds like you have some of that. A paid internship would certainly be beneficial. There are also two community colleges with their own mini zoos that offer a degree based on working directly with animals: Moorpark College (California) and Sante Fe College (Florida). I think they both have decent job placement programs for their graduates. (I know I spoke with a big cat keeper at San Diego a few years ago who was a graduate of Moorpark). The bottom line is that it is a competitive field and you have to really want it (as in you cannot picture yourself doing anything else). If that is the case then I say go for it, but I am going to make a followup post in which I will ask you to at least consider alternatives.
     
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  3. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    I will share my own work experiences with the benefit of hindsight from someone who is in his early fifties. As your passion is working with animals, mine is photography. I spent most of my adult career working for low wages at a full service photo lab. I enjoyed the work and I utilized my knowledge and skills. However I was living from paycheck to paycheck and while the idea of the starving artist sounds romantic when you are young, after a while you realize it is no fun. A year and a half ago (when I was 50) I did what my late mother had suggested when I was younger: get a government job.

    Why am I telling you this? Because being a zookeeper is typically a low wage job (not as low as my photo lab job, but lower than my current government job). That is why the majority of zookeepers entering the profession now are women: because they have (or will have) a husband who will provide the primary income. At least that is what I read in an interesting book about Moorpark College's zoo program.

    Whether any of this applies to you I do not know (I don't even know if you're a woman or man). As I said in my previous post, if this is really what you feel you want (need) to do, then go for it. I am just saying make sure you consider all options and if you do pursue it that you are comfortable living on a modest income.
     
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  4. capybara

    capybara Member

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    Hello and thank you for your input. I have been passionate about becoming a zookeeper for as long as I can remember. I come from a family of very successful people who pushed me to pursue a different career due to the salary I would be receiving as a zookeeper. I started to consider veterinary school or becoming a vet tech in high school but continued going back to zookeeping. After my experience volunteering, the only place I can picture myself working long-term, where I am happy to go to work every day, is at a zoo or aquarium. A zookeeper's salary is of course disappointing but not enough of a reason for me to not pursue this career. I am not making any more money now than I would be as a zookeeper, and I live fairly comfortably in New England.

    I really do not think it is fair to say the majority of the profession are women because they have a husband to support them, but I can understand where that idea would come from. Can you remember what book you read? I would love to read it to find out how they came to that conclusion.

    I am hoping to get in contact with someone who either completed a graduate degree or community college degree specifically for zookeeping or zoo management, to learn if they feel it helped them get started in their career. After I graduate from undergrad, I hope to pursue a higher level degree rather than going backwards and attending community college. Of course if that is what I needed to do, then that is what I would do. But there is that graduate program at Colorado State as well as a graduate certificate from Western Illinois University for zookeeping. I am wondering if either of these would better prepare me for zoo management. I'm sure someone on this forum has also completed a long-term internship after college - in that case I would love to speak with them as well. Primarily I am really hoping to learn how I can best prepare for the career and make myself a more competitive applicant, whether that be through a graduate degree, community college, or a longer paid internship after graduation.

    Thanks again for your input.
     
  5. Arizona Docent

    Arizona Docent Well-Known Member

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    Here is a link to the book on Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Kicked-Bitte...=1492375999&sr=1-11&keywords=moorpark+college
    As I recall they do not go into any detail on how they reached the conclusion about why more women are zookeepers. It may have just been an assumption on the author's part.

    As I said I have no paid experience at a zoo (only volunteer) so I hope one of the few ZooChat members who actually work in the field will join in. However I am sure a graduate degree will only help your chances. At the very least I think it would give you the option of working at a premiere zoo of your choosing, instead of having to "settle" for a zoo that would be your second choice.
     
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  6. capybara

    capybara Member

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    I was thinking the same. The local zoo where I volunteer is ZAA accredited and very small (also in debt and should probably close). The lead zookeepers are graduates of my state university but were employed at the zoo before or during college. They make practically minimum wage even after 8-10 years of employment there. One zookeeper was laid off (she put up a fight about the zoo selling rehabilitated parrots) and is having an extremely hard time finding another zookeeper job even with 8-10 years experience and 5 years of being the volunteer and internship coordinator. I feel that with a more advanced degree her odds may be better. Also I feel the graduate degree may make up for the lack of internships during my undergraduate career.
     
  7. Zoofan15

    Zoofan15 Well-Known Member

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    I'm not sure if it's the same in the USA, but with regards to zoo keeping in New Zealand, time and time again I'm told by people I speak to in the industry that experience is key. A qualification is essential (New Zealand has a Certificate of Captive Wild Animals) and indeed provides on the job training/work experience but without experience, an applicant wouldn't stand a chance against those with experience given the volume of applicants which allows zoos to be more selective in who they employ. In many cases, a volunteer position has led to employment at that zoo as they get to know you and see first hand your many good qualities which ultimately go in your favour.

    If you've volunteered at one zoo for a period of time (in your case 3 years) and have the backing of the head keeper, I wouldn't reccomend switching zoos unless you're certain there is no possibility of employment at that zoo. It takes time to build up a rapport and reputation which you have clearly excelled in doing and can hopefully use to your advantage in seeking employment there. Keep us updated on what route you take!

    *Please note this post is purely my opinion and is based soley on my conversations with people in the industry, I do not work in a zoo myself.
     
  8. capybara

    capybara Member

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    Hello :) The zoo I volunteer at should really be closed. It is very small. They are surviving off donations and are very much in debt. Most animals were sold off last year. In fact one of the head zookeepers was laid off (after 10+ years of experience there) when she put up a fight about the zoo selling rehabilitated birds. She understands that I am looking to leave the zoo and volunteer at a different one. She is very happy to write me a letter of recommendation when necessary - she's already done it once! The other lead zookeeper is planning to stay at the zoo but understands that I would like to volunteer somewhere else. She is also happy to be my reference and write a recommendation!

    Also, I feel I have learned as much as I can in three years as a volunteer. There is only so much I am allowed to do there, and I do it all. I have gotten to the point of working directly with the arctic wolves - which is basically the highest thing you can do at the zoo as a volunteer. I have learned a lot about animal care, enrichment, nutrition, etc. And at this point I feel that volunteering at a different zoo would open up some new doors in terms of experience I can gain. The other zoo has many species that my current zoo does not, and I would be allowed to have a lot more responsibility as an experienced volunteer. I feel that it would strengthen my resume to show nearly three years of experience at one zoo, and two or more years of volunteer experience at another. It would allow me the greatest opportunity to work with many different species.

    I would not accept a position at either zoo. Both zoos are small and tend to keep a staff of 4-5 people year-round. Others are hired seasonally. I'm not in a financial position to accept a seasonal job that I know would not turn into a full-time one. One of the zoos is owned by a family and the only employees there are family.
     
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