My time at Royal Holloway is now coming to an end and on July 12th my student status will have evolved into that of a zoology graduate. If I could go back in time to 3 years ago, knowing what I know now, I might have saved a few dozen hours trudging through the internet, countless books and job guides to no avail and instead been much more efficient in my quest for knowledge. So here’s a few nifty tips and shortcuts for budding zoologists so that you might make use of the many, many things I’ve learned during my time here that a single sheet of paper cannot do justice.
① Get inspired
Even though you’re studying for the degree of your dreams, sometimes you just need that extra push to meet the looming deadline you’ve been putting off for weeks. Ask yourself; “why am I here?”. For me, a passion for animal welfare led me to embark upon this degree, so watching a documentary such as “Blackfish”, “Blood lions” or “The Cove” is enough to get the blood boiling and motivate myself into working my butt off. As a RHUL student, you have access to a website called “bobnational.net” which gives you access to over 1 million programmes – documentaries galore! (It’s basically an extended version of iPlayer for people in higher education). Use it whilst you can! Oh, and don’t forget TED talks – these are especially good for mini study breaks as they’re typically around 15 minutes long. In addition to cutting-edge biological science, they also cover topics from psychology to global affairs. Very addictive.
② Educate yourself
University isn’t like school – take the initiative to keep up to date with scientific advances as it’s true that the more you put into your learning, the more you’ll get out of it. The good news is that there’s an easy way of doing this that will have your procrastination turning into extra reading before you even notice you’re doing it! Follow “IFL science” on Facebook. They produce multiple blog posts every day about the newest research published in journals and this often actually coincides with the courses you are learning at the time. Keep your eyes peeled for memorable research that is relevant to more than one of your courses – this equates to less revision whilst still getting those golden “extra reading” marks. I would also recommend subscribing to the “takepart.com” mailing list if you’re interested in issues such as wildlife crime, scientific policies and conservation issues. Also, websites like ‘ScienceDaily.com’ are very good.
③ Hands-on experience
Work experience is one of those things that employers love, yet if you’re not the most proactive person in the world it can easily become the permanent resident on your to-do list. You finally give up altogether; only to regret it when your beloved student loan runs out and you’re on the dole. Don’t be that person! After I completed placements at a vets, RSPCA sanctuary and various farms, I decided I wanted to explore career paths in conservation. Beware the internet – there are many companies such as Frontier and Opwall which offer seemingly perfect “voluntary placements” abroad; but as you dig deeper your dreams are shattered as you uncover the huge price tag on these expeditions which are not feasible for many penniless students. I found that approaching a local zoo directly with a thoroughly prepared covering letter got me a foot in the door as a “walking with lemurs supervisor”. As the weeks went by I was granted more responsibilities and hands-on interaction with the animals, as well as monitoring their behaviour, an insight into the logistics behind critically endangered species breeding programmes and observing a specialist zoo vet in action. Plus, free entry to a freaking zoo; lunch breaks have never been so interesting!
④ Making contacts
Admittedly, this one has never come naturally to me and can be quite daunting for the shyer among us. However, it may actually be the most important when it comes to landing jobs and seeking opportunities which you would never have otherwise come across. During work experience at the zoo, I took my responsibilities seriously and made a real effort to get stuck in, no matter how boring or unglamorous the task at hand was. It paid off; my supervisor’s feedback at the end of the placement highlighted that she liked my attitude and if I ever wanted to come back and help out with any of the non-primate sections that she would try her best to sort something out for me. Within a few weeks, a predominantly public-facing role with no animal contact had opened doors for working with elephants, for free! Making contacts doesn’t even have to occur outside the uni either – a few of my friends have secured work in the labs with PhD students, and lecturers who are experts in their field could be introducing you to their celebrity pals if you really impress them! The key thing is talking to people; otherwise you’ll never know what opportunities you could be missing out on.
⑤ Work hard, play harder
All this studying and CV boosting is tiring work, so make sure to make time for other commitments too. Pace yourself and do manageable stunts at Bedford where you know when to stop and go to sports practice – the drive to be successful poses a danger in the form of a burnout which is only detrimental to tomorrow’s work. There is some sense in the revision tips flyers that engulf you around the exam period; a favourite being to go for a walk or otherwise get away from your laptop during study breaks. If possible, get yourself a study buddy; even if you’re holed up in the silent section all day, human interaction will stop you going into a revision coma and save your sanity.
Good luck to the future zoologists of RHUL!