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Naomi Lawson – Student Volunteering Week

Naomi with penguinApplied Animal Science 4th Year student Naomi Lawson took up a 3 month volunteering placement at Edinburgh Zoo, working in the penguin section. To celebrate Student Volunteering Week, we asked Naomi to tell us more about her time at the zoo and why she took the decision to volunteer.

How did you find out about the volunteering opportunity?

Through an email from my lecturer Carol Thompson and Jill Offer who received information about the placement from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS).

What did you do during your time volunteering?

I got to participate in almost every activity that a paid zookeeper would do on a daily basis with all three species of penguins present at the zoo (King, Gentoo and Northern Rockhopper). These activities included: cleaning the enclosure, hand feeding the penguins, preparing fish for the day, observing the colony and all individuals for any unusual behaviour/signs of illness, enrichment for the birds, as well as assisting with the penguin parade. Since my placement was during the birds breeding and moulting season, I also got to be involved with: health checking the newborn chicks, changing the identification bands on the birds flippers, catching/moving the chicks and Northern Rockhopper adults between enclosures during weaning period, and assisting the vets and keepers with general health checks.

What made you decide to volunteer?

I wanted to gain practical, hands-on experience working with animals that I would otherwise not be able to observe regularly. There were numerous animal sections offering a student placement, these included: Penguins, Hoofstock, Living Links and Animal Presenting. While I desperately wanted to work with the Penguins, I initially applied for a position working in the Hoofstock section, as I thought that would be my best chance of getting chosen due to my experience working with horses for nearly 14 years, as well as my wealth of knowledge gained from my degree.  However, following my initial application and subsequent interview where I expressed my desire to work with penguins, I was given the opportunity to work with them which I was more than ecstatic to accept.

What do you hope to gain from the experience?

Following graduation from my honours degree I hope to go on to study a Masters in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare at the Royal Dick Vet, I thought that this experience would give me invaluable knowledge and experience that I would be able to utilise not only for the Masters but also in future opportunities. The experience also gave me an insight into what it would be like to work as a Zookeeper, a job I have always considered doing since I was young.  I learned far more than I ever could from just reading around the topic area, it also gives me experience working in a commercial environment as part of a team. Even though I was not a paid zookeeper, which meant I was restricted regarding some activities due to health and safety/insurance purposes, the keepers tried to include me in these activities as best they could so I was able to participate in many activities that I could only dream of doing.

Naomi feeding penguinWhat advice would you give you anyone interested in volunteering?

Having done my placement, I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life which I miss terribly. While it was incredibly demanding and draining both mentally and physically, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.  I advise and encourage anyone who has the opportunity to volunteer, especially at the Zoo, to send in an application. While many people are put-off by the fact, there is no income involved with volunteering when used as a source of experience on your CV employers will be able to see that you are passionate about that area, especially if the volunteering position was lengthy since you were not doing the placement for the money. Not only is volunteering something that can be used as a reference on your CV, but volunteering offers you the chance to gain exposure to something that you may otherwise be unable to become involved with.

If there is a particular volunteering position that you are interested in, fill out an application and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact the organisation/person offering the placement to ask for more information. While I’m not saying harass them, if you approach them they will most likely remember your name when they see your application, which will give a good impression as it shows you are keen and genuinely interested in the position. When contacting those offering a placement always be respectful in the way you present yourself. When you send your application, and personal statement/cover letter (if required) that you say “I look forward to hearing back from you” at some point in your response as this denotes confidence in yourself and abilities which employers desire. If you have to go to an interview make sure you know when and where the meeting is, as well as to dress appropriately to create an excellent first impression. If anything is not made clear about the interview or application, contact the corresponding individual, and I’m sure they would be more than happy to help out. If you are unsuccessful, while it may be disheartening, ask for feedback so that you may improve your next application.
Good Luck!

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