PERSPECTIVES Summer 2000: Major Decision
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Major Decision
Photo by Sheri D. Thomas

he career paths of students majoring in zoology are as diverse as the students themselves. Their job choices range from medicine to the Peace Corps, from laboratory research to fish and wildlife management. A majority of graduates go on to graduate or professional school.

Amy Van Staalduinen, a zoology major who graduated in May, plans to take a job in aquaculture research at the Vernon James Research and Extension Center in Plymouth. It is very different from internships she had during college, which focused more on environmental education, and it will give her some time to decide whether to pursue graduate studies and in what field. Van Staalduinen chose to major in zoology because she had much exposure to outdoors and nature growing up near the coast in Terra Ceia, near Pantego. She planned to use zoology as a first step toward a career in marine biology.

As a student she participated in internships at the N.C. Zoological Park in Asheboro and a state aquarium in Manteo. Though she enjoyed the educational aspects of the work, research was something she wanted to try. In her new job, she will be involved in research on fish nutrition and growth, related to egg quality.

Andrea Siatkowski, another May zoology graduate, also is taking some time to decide what to pursue in graduate school. In the meantime, she has taken a job as a teaching assistant in the Japanese English Teaching Program (JET). The program, which lasts for a year, is run through the Japanese government and will pay for her airfare and help her set up an apartment in Japan for her stay.

Siatkowski says the experience will provide new cultural opportunities while she decides what she wants to do next.

“I will have the chance to travel through Asia, save up money, and buy myself a little more time in deciding exactly what it is I want to go to graduate school for. I have heard from quite a number of people that if I am uncertain, I should wait until I have a better idea,” Siatkowski said. “I am still trying to decide if I want to go to school to study behavioral ecology or anthropology. There is a large difference between these two career choices, so I want to be sure when I do that I make right the decision,” she said.

Tracking the careers of zoology majors can be difficult. Unlike many departments in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences where most students go to work in a common field, zoology students tend to spread out.

A Web site established by the College’s Career Services office tells some interesting stories. “What Can I Do With My Major?” allows students to read descriptions of what people from different College majors are doing in their careers.

Occupations listed, which come from zoology graduates themselves, include technical writer, physician, veterinarian, genetics counselor, Extension agent, researcher, professor and museum educator. The Web site address is http://www.cals.ncsu. edu/career/majors/jobs.htm.

“Zoology is not a real specialized major. Some students will go on to health professions,” said Marcy Bullock, career services director for the College. “Others will go into clinical research, working to get drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Others are working in laboratories or in sales, combining technical expertise with business training.”

r. John Godwin, assistant professor in the Zoology Department, has seen students enter a number of different fields during the three and a half years he has taught in the College. One former student is working with a company in Germany, looking at issues concerning transgenic crops. Another works at the N.C. Museum of Natural Science, developing herpetology exhibits and education programs for elementary school students.

One graduating senior is going to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to work on the results of exposure to environmental estrogens. Another will spend a year with the Peace Corps in Africa, before going on to graduate school.

“Zoology is really a good way to learn how to do science,” Godwin said. “It’s not so much learning stuff as learning how to do stuff that will make a difference.

“A student once told me, ‘Zoology has really taught me how to think,’ and that’s what we want to hear.”

The zoology department has a reputation for having a rigorous curriculum and seems to attract a high caliber of student, Godwin said. “Some of the College’s top students are here. They show they can master a difficult program and get things done.”

Last year, Godwin knew of a graduating senior who was recruited by Harvard’s dental school, but chose to go to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill instead. Students vie for spots in N.C. State’s College of Veterinary Medicine and other top veterinary programs at universities such as Cornell and Louisiana State.

Bullock says zoology students can do several things to help prepare for the job market. One important option is participating in internship programs as undergraduates, as Van Staalduinen did.

“Employers are going to look at the whole package: experience, leadership and involvement,” she said. “I think an internship really gives them a leg up and helps them get a better idea of what they want to do.”

Career services also offers assessments to help students explore issues such as whether they are more inclined to work in a lab or to work more closely with people.

Mentoring is another good way for students to learn about jobs in their field by developing a relationship with someone already working in that field. “It helps if a student has someone to give guidance,” she said. “Mentors can help students get to know someone in the workplace, and that gives them a little inside help.”

Whatever Amy Van Staalduinen decides to pursue down the road, she is pleased that she chose to major in zoology at N.C. State. “I thoroughly enjoyed my education at N.C. State,” she said. “I have nothing but praise for the zoology program.”


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