Student experiences

Carrie Gauld on placement

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8 October 2013

Five minutes with BSc (Hons) Animal Behaviour and Welfare graduate Carrie Gauld

Carrie, 25, from Orkney, graduated in 2013, and has remained at Harper Adams as a ruminant technician (maternity cover). Having enjoyed her year’s work placement as an intern at Chester Zoo, she plans to follow a career as a zoo keeper.

What attracted you to a land-based university?

Many reasons! Coming from a rural background, I didn’t want to move to a city based university. I also wanted the ‘community’ feel offered by a small university. Having lived on a farm all my life I wanted to move somewhere where I could still work with cows and other animals.

Why did you choose your course?

I studied HND Animal Care at a college in Scotland before coming to uni and one of our lecturers had studied Animal Behaviour and passed on her interest to me. After finishing college I returned to Orkney, but didn’t wish to stay there long term and coming to uni gave me a protected environment in which to move away from the Islands.

Are you glad you chose it?

I have found a great deal of support from the lecturers here and the facilities that are available on the farm and at the Companion Animal House (CAH) have given me the opportunity to develop confidence and skills in working with a wide range of species.

Is it a good balance of practical and academic skills?

The course itself is heavily academically based apart from in the first year, but there are many opportunities outside of the course to gain practical experience. If the student shows the initiative to go and find them!

Do you think it is beneficial to get a formal qualification?

Yes, mainly because so many job adverts ask for it as a basic requirement.

Those that are studying an animal-based degree must also remember that experience is essential. With many potential employers looking for some practical experience outside of the studied course the degree itself may not be enough to get the desired job.

That’s why Harper Adams’ placement year is so valuable. Did the fact that our degrees include a placement influence your decision to study here?

Yes definitely. Having a placement as a part of the course gives you the opportunity to try a new area of the industry that you may otherwise have never considered. You know that the university is there to help if anything goes wrong and there is the student loan to fund you so it is possible to take voluntary placements if needs be. 

How did you find your placement?

One of my lecturers told me about the internship scheme and encouraged me to apply.

Did you enjoy it?

Zoo keeping has always been one of my dreams, but I never thought it would become reality due to my lack of experience in that area. The 52 week internship offered by Chester gave me that opportunity. For zoo jobs experience is everything and being a year intern at Chester looks really good on your CV - the number of people leaving the scheme either with jobs or returning to further education in my year was nearly 100%.”

What did a typical day on placement include?

It was very variable, but might have included cleaning out the giraffe red river hog and pudu houses and paddocks and making up the next day’s feeds. I’d be feeding, cleaning and weighing the duiker and agouti, and giving the pudu a glitter feed (they were being fed glitter for a research project where the zoo needed to identify faeces from each individual). Tying browse and general maintenance also needed to be done.

What was it like to work as part of a professional team?

Brilliant! There was so much to learn from all of the keepers and as they are used to a rolling intake of interns they were all very good at explaining things and sharing their knowledge.

What was the best thing about placement?

Everything! The day to day care of the animals and just getting to watch each of them and build up a relationship with them. 

How did it influence your studies when you came back to uni?

I did my dissertation on the giraffe at Chester Zoo and loved it. So many people told me to make sure and pick a topic that I was really interested in and passionate about and I am glad that I did! I also took more of a zoo focus in many of my final year subjects where it was possible to do so.

Has placement changed your career goals?

I have become passionate about conservation and the care of captive wild animals. I loved being involved in the day to day care of the animals and just getting to watch and build up a relationship with them. As a result my career goal has changed completely; I am now aiming to become a zoo keeper, which before I wasn’t even considering.

From 2013-14 I am working as a ruminant technician here at Harper Adams as maternity cover, then I plan to return to Chester Zoo to complete another three-month internship on a different section, then keep volunteering in zoos till I get a job.

How do you think your course will help you with your career?

It shows that I have a good background of knowledge covering a wide range of subjects and that I have the perseverance to see things through.

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