Can I switch to an entirely different career?
May 31, 2006 12:18 PM   Subscribe

I want to work with animals, specifically, big cats. I currently work in IT. Is it too late to get my dream job?

I'm 26, living in the UK. I have A-Levels and a professional qualification in Software Testing, which is what I do for a living. I have no degree.

My dream job is to work with big cats. Doing what? Well I don't want to be a vet, but anything that involves interaction would fall close to being a "dream job" for me.

Is it too late? What can I do?
posted by Mwongozi to Work & Money (14 answers total)
Have you . . . um . . . have you got your own hat?
posted by The Bellman at 12:24 PM on May 31, 2006

Move to Moorpark, California
posted by clh at 12:24 PM on May 31, 2006

Why don't you call your nearest zoo that houses big cats and ask them if there's a volunteer program that would allow you to work with them? A friend of my ex's did that with birds, and then got qualified as a vet tech (not an actual vet doctor) and has a job working at said zoo full time.
posted by SpecialK at 12:27 PM on May 31, 2006

A friend of mine just finished studying for her grad degree in South African Mammalogy in South Africa. She studied chemistry and biology in college. Part of her research in the bush involved many trips to preserves and field research parks. She had little access to big cats outside of smaller ones in the sanctuaries.

Short of an amazing bout of luck with placement somewhere in the Peace Corps, any field where you want to work with live big cats in an up-close capacity would require expertise in either biological or zoological sciences.

As grad school goes, there's clearly no time limit, especially not at 27. But there's no way you're getting a job working up close with tigers anytime soon. A majority of great cats are endangered, and thus even with a volunteer organization, access to animals would be limited to those with the education and skills to deal with a rare and unfathomably dangerous wild animal in their presence.

Given your background, you may want to look into programs that deal with computer sciences pertaining to animal research fields. But the liklihood of a computer or engineering field having a relation to field work is low to non-existent; if anything it would likely be a lab field. My friend was in the field studying warthogs, and even with that she had a guide and experts she was communicating with, and again she was ending graduate studies.

If this is something you really want to do, you can do it, but you should talk to advisors at schools in the animal studies fields now, and accept it'll be years before you have a chance of actually working with great cats.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:30 PM on May 31, 2006

Zoo's probably have some IT requirement, too. You could at least then be working in the proximity of your dream job.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:34 PM on May 31, 2006

SpecialK; my friend's brother also works at the Bronx Zoo; he works in a animal research capacity with the heriborious mammals (gazelle, etc.) While his position gives him closer access to all the animals, he's certainly not qualified to "work with" big cats, by that I mean anything beyond possibly helping feed them or cleaning their facilities. I assumed Mwongozi's use of the word "interaction" implied something beyond simply working somewhere where a lot of animals were around, but if that's the extent of working "with" big cats, yes, a volunteer track at a zoo is definitely a good idea. (In fact, that's how my friend started her track toward her grad degree)

The final possibility, of course, is related to the Tropicana needing a replacement for Roy.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:35 PM on May 31, 2006

Have you . . . um . . . have you got your own hat?

If I ring Mr. Chipperfield...his first question is not going to be "Has he got his own hat".

Volunteer at the zoo - I have a friend who does this and while he doesn't have the "work with big cats" desire, he does get to interact with animals. When the ticket sales counter is slow he gets to help out in the animal shows, feed the elephants, etc. So that'd probably be as good a place to start as any.
posted by pdb at 12:39 PM on May 31, 2006

Okay, I feel kind of bad now as if I overly attacked your dream with all that stuff, Mwongzi. ;)

To be clear, much of what I said is related to field work, which is what I thought you were talking about as opposed to simply working in a field connected to animals. As a few have noted, yes- if you just want to work close to animals, then the best (an in many cases only) real option for being near big cats is working or volunteering at a zoo or sanctuary.

If your interest is actual hands-on interaction with lions, tigers, cheetahs, etc. in a capacity where you are frequently looking at them and physically in contact with them- especially in the wild- you will most definitley need a degree, and for the highest levels of the field a doctorate. Again, there's no time limit on this.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 12:54 PM on May 31, 2006

Seconding the Moorpark College EATM program. It is a two-year program of intense work but you will have a great time and you'll be working with big cats in your second year. You are not too old, either; the program has seen 40 and 50 year old 'new students'.
posted by Rubber Soul at 1:13 PM on May 31, 2006

No problem with the attacking, Xquthingy. (Your name is as difficult to spell as mine.) That's kinda what I expected anyway.

So let's say I'm determined to get a degree, and given a free choice, I'd want to end up working somewhere in the UK as opposed to overseas. (So we're talking a zoo or safari park, as opposed to the wilds of Africa.)

What degree should I be aiming for? Is it something I could study at the OU?
posted by Mwongozi at 1:17 PM on May 31, 2006

Oh, you're in the US. Sorry, you won't know about the OU.
posted by Mwongozi at 1:21 PM on May 31, 2006

Another possibility would be moving into the Veterinary Technology field. Veterinary Technicians are the "Registered Nurses" of the vet field. My wife did an intership at the Franklin Park Zoo and worked with all kinds of exotic animals. Obviously, she did not work exclusively with big cats, but she really enjoyed the whole experience. It is a quicker and less expensive way to get into the veterinary field than actually going to vet school, and you are doing more of the hands-on, practical stuff anyway.

Not sure (nor is my Vet Tech wife) how/if the field is different in the UK, so this may be only US-appropriate advice (oh, and I do know what the OU is, but I doubt it is possible to get such a hands-on degree there).
posted by Rock Steady at 2:25 PM on May 31, 2006

I have a classmate in an undergrad course who is has decided being a lawyer is his dream job and who is starting from scratch at 45. If he can do it...
posted by arcticwoman at 5:30 PM on May 31, 2006

Just remember that big cats can be dangerous. But a little pussy never hurt anyone.
posted by JamesMessick at 5:08 AM on June 1, 2006

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