Sarah Curtis - MSc Zoo Conservation Biology* graduate
From Plymouth to South Africa
After graduating from Plymouth, I was incredibly lucky to be offered a job with African Impact as their Principal Researcher at their Kruger location in South Africa.
I run their conservation projects, collaborating with local and international partners and NGOs to collect data on species including the Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, buffalo) to further assist with conservation efforts in the field – while also living only 30 minutes from the incredible Kruger National Park.
I couldn’t ask for a better work environment – it never feels like work! The staff are amazing and I love meeting volunteers from around the world and showing them why conservation is essential.
My career highlights
It’s definitely hard to pick a singular moment, as every day there’s something new and exciting to be seen. For me, it’s a toss-up between being surrounded by six curious spotted hyenas on a morning drive, coming across a pack of 17 painted dogs playing, or being stared down by a leopard only a few metres from our car.
We also spend one night a week camping in the bush, which is one of my favourite things to do. Nothing prepares you for waking up to the sounds of hyenas whooping, lions roaring and hippos grunting around you.
Overall, I had an amazing time at Plymouth.
- Stand-out memories include going to Paignton Zoo every week as well as trips to other zoological collections.
- I liked the fact that there was a mix of modules focusing on ex-situ and in-situ conservation.
- I felt really supported by my lecturers, particularly during my thesis. My supervisor and other staff were incredibly helpful in making sure I was on the right track, especially with difficult tasks such as statistical analysis. I think one of the reasons I achieved a Distinction in my thesis was because I was allowed to decide on my own topic and was supported through this, meaning I got to write about something that I was really interested and invested in.
- I had a great time doing data collection for an assignment with my friends at Dartmoor Zoo – it was often freezing as it was in December but worth it to watch their beautiful tigers so regularly.
- It was great to have a small course number where I got to know everyone and often even just spending the bus journeys chatting to everyone was fun.
- I really enjoyed writing my thesis, and got to spend two weeks in the Cotswolds and Newquay for data collection in summer.
- I also had quite a lot of fun with some of the assignments that were given, such as making a website or creating an in-situ conservation plan.
- There was just lots of variation within the course and it really tested my knowledge and skills, which is something that I think is really important at MSc level.
Preparing for the future
Because of the practicality of the MSc and also the wide variety of assignments, I feel confident in creating a range of work from conservation assessments to business plans. As a manager, it’s really important that you have these skills – even if you have all the knowledge, if you don’t know how to collaborate, work with people, and work with a variety of tasks in a variety of environments, then you may struggle to get as far as you’d like.
The more self-guided aspects of doing an MSc also help prepare you for independent working and getting used to managing your time more effectively. I feel that I came out of Plymouth a much more confident person not only in my own abilities but in my life as a whole, and this helped lead me on the path to my dream job, where I am today.