Advice on becoming a biologist

by ZSL on

This Biology Week ZSL’s zookeepers and scientists from across ZSL have been chatting with secondary school students through the magic of Skype all about careers. From keepers and vets to research scientists and field conservationists, there’s a huge variety of roles here at ZSL, all with their own routes in.

Read on below for some sage advice on pursuing a biological career…

Daniel Kane, Reptile Keeper at ZSL London Zoo


Daniel Kane – Reptile Keeper at ZSL London Zoo

“Studying hard to get good grades will always help but don’t forget how important connections can be. Be nice to everyone, too – you never know where they might end up!”




David Jacoby – Research Fellow in ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, David Jacoby tagging a sharkstudying the social and spatial ecology of sharks

“My advice would be to learn a skill early on and bring that skill to biology. Some of the most productive and innovative biologists I know have come to biology from computer programming, engineering, physics and mathematics for example - you will always be employable with a skill from these areas.”




Heidi Ma – PhD student studying the Hainan gibbonHeidi Ma

“Always be curious and never stop exploring, whether it is travel, art, or learning a new language. Have lots of interests that might not be obviously related to biology, but they might help you in surprising ways later in your career and at the very least be enriching and give you different perspectives.”



Ben Tapley – Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians, Ben Tapley with Chinese giant salamanderresponsible for helping plan which species we house at our zoos and also developing conservation and research projects focused on reptiles and amphibians

“Network like crazy, make as many contacts as possible, join relevant associations and attend conferences.” 



Henrike Schulte to Bühne – PhD student studying the effects of land use change and climate change on ecosystemsHenrike Schulte to Bühne

“Another piece of advice is to not think that you cannot be a Biologist if you are a book nerd, or like the inside/cities, or care a lot about make-up, fashion or film. There’s this myth that to be an ecologist you have to have spent a lot of time outside as a child and know lots about animals and plants (although if that is you that is very cool!). That is not true. You can be a biologist regardless of the way you look, speak or what hobbies you pursue.”




David Waite – Primate Keeper at ZSL London ZooDavid Waite and a baby sloth

“My advice to someone wanting to pursue a biology related career is simple. If it’s something that you love and you’re passionate about, follow it, work hard for it and make it happen. It’s worth it, trust me!”







Jessica Courtney-Jones – Zookeeper in Animal Activities at ZSL London ZooJessican courtney jones

“My advice to anyone wanting to work with animals is the same when I start training an animal- time, consistency and patience. By following these steps you can achieve your goal and you will see the benefits in the end.”




Jim Mackie – Behaviour and Training Officer, eJim Mackie nhances the welfare of all of ZSL’s animals through behaviour analysis, trained behaviour and enrichment

“Don’t be afraid to volunteer; be persistent and patient; create networks; be prepared to work really hard and don’t give up!”



All the above came to their careers from a huge variety of different backgrounds – and some didn’t even know their current role existed when they started out! So don’t worry if you’re not sure exactly what direction you want to head in – work hard, follow you’re passions and you never know where you might end up.

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