So You Want To Work With Animals…
When I ask a biology student about his/her career interests for the first time, I often hear “I don’t know … I just want to work with animals.” Unfortunately, beyond a career in veterinary medicine, most students don’t know what possibilities exist for working with animals. And for some, becoming a practicing veterinarian may be out of reach for a variety of reasons. But that shouldn’t stop you from working with animals. One of my former students, Jen (Kitchen) Shepard, just completed an excellent veterinary technician program and is enjoying her work at South Coast Animal Hospital.
There are other ways to work with animals beyond the veterinary sciences. Why not become a conservation biologist, working to protect biodiversity and the world’s endangered species? Or become an animal educator, teaching the next generation about animals and their habitats? Or, why not help animals by working to eliminate pollution, habitat fragmentation, and other impacts that humans have on the environment? Another one of my students, Christina (Pinkerton) Whiteman, started out working with birds on her internships while at ENC, and is now conserving bird habitat by helping the State of Delaware develop plans for dealing with sea level rise due to climate change.
One cannot make a career choice lightly, however, so one thing I tell students interested in studying animals is that these careers are something you choose because you are passionate about animals, and not because you are going to make a lot of money. If you (or your parents) want to maximize your earning potential, there are other facets of environmental science where your salary will be higher. And the jobs working with animals, especially in zoos and aquaria, are highly competitive – there are many people that want to work in these places, but there are not many jobs available. You will have to get a good education and some experience to make yourself an attractive candidate. You will also need to consider a graduate degree where you can focus your study on a particular animal or animal group.
One way you can get some experience with animals is to volunteer or intern with an organization that keeps animals in captivity or studies them in the wild. Unfortunately, many of the internships are unpaid; nevertheless, you will want to get this experience before you try to get employment in the field. ENC students interested in animals have gained valuable experience with the Massachusetts Audubon Society (Trailside Museum), Museum of Science (animal collection), New England Aquarium, Roger Williams Park Zoo, Quincy Animal Shelter, and South Shore Natural Science Center.
Fortunately, ENC’s Biology Department also maintains around 15 educational animals, so you can get some experience right here on campus. We have no mammals or birds, but if you can work with reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates we can use your help on our Animal Caretakers Team.
Finally, let me say that I share your interest in animals. When I studied at ENC, I focused on marine biology and ecology because one day I hoped to work with dolphins or humpback whales. While I have been on many whale watches since that time, I never got the opportunity to work with these animals closely. And my career took a circuitous path, but eventually I got to teach at ENC, and with that came the opportunity to work with animals. These days, my interest is mainly in reptiles and amphibians, but I also get to teach marine biology and educate about whales and dolphins.
If you have questions about careers with animals, or what ENC can offer you, please feel free to contact me by phone (617-745-3552) or email (Jonathan.Twining@enc.edu).
Jonathan Twining teaches the ecology and environmental science courses for the Biology Department and is the advisor for the Animal Caretakers Team (ACT). Twining worked for a number of years as an environmental scientist and project manager with consulting firms in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. He has been very active in the greater community, partnering ENC students with organizations like the Quincy DPW, Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts, Massachusetts Audubon, the South Shore Natural Science Center, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation. His passion and primary research interest is the ecology and conservation of vernal pool habitats. He has written numerous articles for NCM Magazine, and has been a speaker in local congregations about the care of creation (environmental stewardship).