Archive for the ‘Zoology’ Category

If you we’re anything like me, you know what you want to do, you know what undergraduate course you need to take… but what next?

Every course has a variety of post-graduate options to undertake. For fields like Zoology, this is an almost mandatory step. It can be really really difficult to get a job straight out of a Bachelor degree. You lack one very important thing: experience.

You’ve learnt the theory, you’ve done some field work, but you’ve never run your own research project.

A post-graduate degree is a great way to get some hands on experience in your chosen field. You can of course choose a coursework post-graduate degree to further your expertise in your field. Or you can follow the research path and undertake a project researching something no one has ever looked at before. This can prepare you for doing your PhD, or it can give you the skills you require to enter your chosen field.

In the same way your undergraduate course (and indeed the 13 years of education prior to this) teach you not just the content, but how to learn – a post-graduate degree teaches you not only how to conduct a single research project, but will give you skills you will use for the rest of your life.

What does it involve?

Some science streams differ slightly, so I will talk predominantly of my experiences in Zoology.

If you go for the research stream, you will work with a supervisor (usually a lecturer from your department) on a research project. This can be both lab or field based (or both!).

Some science streams still offer Honours, which is a one year research project. But many are moving towards Masters instead: Zoology being one of them. I was originally a Masters skeptic, but I am now the converted!

Masters involves me doing a research project over two years alongside 125 points of coursework (subjects are usually worth 12.5 points – so this means 6 subjects) . This allows me to study relevant subjects to my fieldwork, as well as the opportunity to extend my knowledge into areas I haven’t been able to in my Zoology degree. In addition, you can utilise the connections the University has with other institutions in that field in a way you would be unable to independently. In my case, these are institutions like Museum Victoria, Zoos Victoria, Department of Sustainability and Environment and the Commonwealth Scientific Research Organisation, amongst others.

The greatest advantage I’ve found is that, by extending the research project over two years, you get so much more time to think about your project, rather than rushing headlong into it. This translates to a stronger experimental design, as well as a greater shot at a publication (yes, your research will in all likelihood be published in a scientific journal!). As well as that, you can also make time to work a day job during Masters unlike Honours – which for myself was what made the decision for me.

My Masters Experience

I am doing a Master of Science, Zoology stream. I am 3 months into my Masters degree, and I love it. It is extremely full on and requires a lot of dedication and careful time management – something your undergraduate degree will give you plenty of. The coursework is amazing: in one subject I spent every second Tuesday on a field trip to everywhere from Serendip Wildlife Sanctuary to Phillip Island Nature Park, going behind the scenes and hearing from the professional scientists and wildlife managers employed there all about what goes on there and the broader implications for managing wildlife. In another, we’re learning how to effectively communicate science to our colleagues and to members of the public alike. Later in the year I will get to refine my skills in statistics and learn animal ethics in more depth.

My research project involves understanding the ways in which brushtail possums use nest boxes. We don’t really know if animals use nest boxes out of desperation, or if they are actually suitable homes for wildlife. In some cases, they may be doing more damage than good! I will be using a combination of captive trials, field work and computer modelling to look at the ways temperature and the risk of predation influence a possum’s choice of nest box. If all goes well, the results will increase our understanding of brushtails’ biology, as well us helping us to understand what influences nest box choice across a variety of different animals. It will help us understand how brushtails may respond to climate change, as well as to deter possums from nesting in people’s rooftops. It’s all very exciting!

But the real goldmine lies in the fact that, after my Masters degree, I will be equipped with a whole new set of skills that I will be able to carry not only into my PhD, but into the rest of my professional life. I will make a network connections with academics and fellow students alike, many of whom will be my colleagues in future. I think that’s an endpoint worth striving for!

If you’re interested in finding out more about graduate opportunities, the entry requirements, and what is available in your favourite stream: check out the Melbourne Graduate School of Science page.


What is Zoology?

Posted: May 2, 2011 in Zoology
Tags: ,

If I had a dollar for every time someone, upon asking me about my chosen field, replied with, “Oh, so you want to work in a Zoo then?” I’d… well, I’d probably be able to shout you a trip to the zoo.

Golden Snub-nosed Monkey :: photo by suneko on Flickr

And as ridiculous a question as it seems to me now, I remember a time when it was not so clear. When I had all the passion for conservation and none of the information on how to pursue that. When someone once told me I should do Ecology, and I had no idea what that meant. Indeed, to my co-workers at my day job, Ecology is a Manchester brand and little else.

“Zoo-” is a Greek root meaning “animal” or “life”. Any word you see beginning with “zoo” will pertain to something involving animals – not necessarily a Zoo. The suffix -logy comes from the Greek word “logos”, meaning the science or study of.

In fact, if you’re going to take up a life sciences degree in any shape or form, you might want to learn the Greek and Latin roots of the terms you learn in class. Understanding the meaning of prefixes and suffixes will help you out enormously in understanding all those crazy long words that will creep up on you as you go along. It might also save you in an exam one day! (And by ‘might’ I mean “definitely will frequently” – I can attest to that!)

Back on topic, Zoology is thus a study of life and animals. This encompasses everything we see in nature. Every time you watch a documentary on animals, you are hearing facts that were discovered by Zoologists! It is a complex field, with no easy answers to research questions. A lecturer once joked to the class the he had abandoned his former field of science because it was too easy – he wanted to study something without an easy answer. While it was a jovial remark, it reflected a deeper truth: in Zoology there isn’t ever one single answer. There is no a = b. It is a profoundly complex web of intermingled relationships that influence one another on a variety of levels. It’s a deep, intellectual challenge – and that’s just half the fun of it!

Whatever you interests in animals, a Zoology degree is a great way to start. Even if you miss the marks to get into Vet Science, Zoology can act as a pathway there. There are a multitude of disciplines, sub-disciplines and pathways available here, so I’m going to talk about a few of the different disciplines I dabbled in in my undergraduate degree.

Ecology: What once was a foreign concept to me quickly became central to everything I did. Ecology is simply the study of living organisms and their surroundings. It stems from the idea that nothing can be viewed alone: life is interconnected and to understand an organism we need to understand those connections. You will learn how to decipher these relationships and how to understand the ways they impact one another.

Conservation and Australian Wildlife: If conservation is what takes your interest, you’re in the right place. As a high school student, I knew I wanted to work in conservation but had no idea how to get there. Did I just have to volunteer for an NGO, or could I do it academically? It took me some time to realise that I could do it through a Zoology degree. Most everything you learn is underpinned by Ecology. We learnt conservation with a focus on Australian wildlife, but the implications are global. We learnt everything from how to recognise the ways in which change may impact a community, to the legal processes behind conservation at both a State and Federal level.

Animal Behaviour: This one is of particular interest to me, especially now as my Masters project dabbles in this a lot. This is where you find out how to understand why animals act the way they do. Why do some animals live alone whilst others stay in groups? Why do some spiders ‘decorate’ their webs? How does a possum choose where to sleep during the day? It is commonly mistaken for being an easy science – until you try it! Animals will not talk to you, wildlife will not cooperate: it all rests on experimental design. You have to be able to design an experiment that takes into account everything that can influence the animal so you can manipulate just one of these things and discover how the animals reacts. You will not only learn now to do this, but you will get to do this in practise! You will design real-life experiments in an attempt to find out something that hasn’t been tried before, or to test the validity of something that has. This is useful for conservation purposes, but many study animal behaviour just because they find it interesting!

Reproduction and Development: It isn’t all field work, so if a laboratory is what takes your fancy then there’s room for that, too. The subjects cover everything, from all the hormonal processes in the body that lead the the production of reproductive cells, to the process of fertilisation itself. You will soon understand every cell division of the egg, and what part of the body is formed during which process of development. You will then learn how this whole process can be manipulated for a variety of reasons: to increase yield in a dairy farm, or to control an over-populated species, or even to captive breed an endangered species.

Physiology: Again, if you prefer the clinical stuff, physiology is something you may be interested in. It looks at the system of a living organism. Understanding on a cellular level the way the body works is important in understanding more about the animal itself. This can also have important implications for management of a species.

Genetics: While not strictly being a Zoology topic, it is central to a lot of what we do. After all, if it wasn’t for genetics, we wouldn’t actually know that birds aren’t truly monogamous! While they appear to pair for life, they will sneak other matings behind their partners’ back. Without paternity tests, we would still believe that they were completely faithful. Genetics is useful for being able to indentify animals, as well as being able to understand the level of diversity in a population. The tools it offers us seem to increase by the day, as do the ways to utilise them.

These are just a very brief few. If you want to know more about studying Zoology, you can ask us in the comment section or email us any time. Many Universities that offer a Zoology degree will have a lot of information on their websites, so there’s another good place to start!