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Career Story: Live Animal Presenter And Science Educator

Live Animal Presenter And Science Educator

Job Title: Science Educator; Live Animal Presenter

Type of Company: My company (I am co-owner) specializes in science enrichment programs featuring live invertebrates. Instructors travel to different sites to present programs for children and adults in classrooms, libraries, after-school programs, day camps, scout meetings, birthday parties, senior centers, corporate functions, fundraising events, and more.

Education: BS, Zoology, UMass-Amherst

Previous Experience: I worked in biology labs where I was involved in both cellular and organismal research. One job focused on the study of cancer, primarily leukemia cells. This experience, while valuable, taught me that I preferred working with organisms instead of cell lines. I then worked in other research positions, including a behavioral lab that studied the hormonal control of reproduction in reptiles. I have always been fascinated by exotic animals such as reptiles and invertebrates.

Job Tasks: My job is to teach people about insects, arachnids, and other arthropods through hands-on, interactive science programs. This involves packing up animals and traveling to a different site each day, to present to one or up to five audiences, so the hours vary considerably, depending on the commute and the number of programs booked at a given site. Though the same animals may be brought to each site, the vocabulary and content of the programs change with the age of the audience. Some topics we might discuss with students who are studying insects, for example, would be life cycles and metamorphosis, anatomy, feeding strategies, locomotion, habitats and anti-predator defenses. Not all of these topics would be relevant to a group of seniors, for example, so every program is a bit different, which keeps things interesting. Our inquiry-based approach encourages participants to ask questions that guide topics of discussion. Participants have the opportunity to learn by observing bugs, touching bugs, or both, so having good crowd control and people skills is essential as you assist in these encounters.

I also maintain colonies of all the animals we use in programs, do all the accounting, contact clients, book programs, keep the calendar updated, do invoicing (billing) and contracts for the company, keep our business status updated according to Massachusetts law, and keep our USDA permits to own exotic invertebrates current.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is replacing the fear and aversion people have for certain insects with a dawning curiosity and teaching people to be respectful of creatures they may have previously dismissed as uninteresting or repulsive. Plus, I get to be my own boss, which is good because it teaches you to own your mistakes; it also lets you structure your time around other priorities in your life.

The worst part of my job is cleaning cages. Since this job involves live animals, there is always animal husbandry to be done. Cages need to be washed, animals need to be housed according to their specific habitat needs (heat mats, lighting, etc.); they need to be fed, watered - there's very little down time - and you can't just go away for the weekend without making arrangements for the animals.

Job Tips: Having a solid background in general biology gives you many career options, and if you like people, animals, and informal educational encounters, this might be the type of job you'd enjoy. A background in education would also be invaluable to someone who wants to work in this type of situation.

There are many opportunities for animal presenters in science museums, zoos, and other educational settings, and these larger entities would have the advantage of offering health and vacation benefits that my company does not.

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