BS Biology 2012 Exhibit Interpreter at Zoo Atlanta
I work in Zoo Atlanta's education department providing informal presentations to zoo guests. One of my favorite programs is Tiger Training--I stand just a few feet away and narrate as our zookeepers use positive reinforcement to train either Chelsea or Kavi, the zoo's two Sumatran Tigers. The program is also one of many opportunities we have to talk about how choosing sustainable products like RSPO-certified palm oil can help save endangered animals. On my days off you can still find me at the zoo where I volunteer with the reptile department. I wash a lot of dishes and clean a lot of exhibits, but I also have the opportunity to feed a number of animals. Feeling a chameleon snatch food from my fingers and watching snakes use a wide variety of techniques to subdue their "prey" are fascinating experiences I won't forget any time soon. My interest in reptiles and amphibians began at Georgia Tech where our senior research project focused on amphibian chytrid fungus. My ideal career will allow me to continue studying diseases that affect endangered species.
Georgia Tech provided a wealth of knowledge about research methods, statistics, evolution, adaptations, ecosystems, disease, population dynamics, and much more that I use to answer guest questions on a daily basis. Several of my co-workers come from non-science backgrounds and have had to learn a lot more before they are ready to interact with guests.
Start looking at job postings for careers you are interested in today. See what qualifications they expect candidates to have and make sure you meet those expectations by the time you graduate. Most zookeeper and aquarist positions require a minimum of one year's experience and the only way to gain experience is usually through unpaid internships. Some positions in aquariums and along the coast give preference to or require applicants who are SCUBA certified. Accumulating experience and certifications before you graduate will put you light years ahead of your competition and will help you get the job you want faster.
Also, don't complain too much about group projects. Your professors are just trying to prepare you for the real world where almost every project is a group project.
If you visit Zoo Atlanta, check the back of the map for a schedule of the day's activities. Usually there are a few keeper talks scheduled and in addition to learning some cool and funny things about our animals, it's a great opportunity to ask about working at a zoo. And if you don't like the dining halls, you should probably pack a lunch because Sodexo makes our food, too.