What's it like to study... Zoology

Becky Cliffe made the decision to study Zoology after going to a University of Manchester open day. She is now working on her PhD working with sloths

“So you want to be a zookeeper?”

This is the general response I get after telling people I study zoology. In reality, when I chose my degree I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to be; I just knew I was good at biology and loved animals. No one could have guessed I would end up as a sloth biologist.

I hold Sir David Attenborough entirely responsible for my infatuation with the natural world. As a child, his documentaries inspired me and my parents would often find me out in the garden collecting a whole range of creepy crawlies in my various ‘bug boxes’ (looking back, I’m sure this wasn’t so great for the local ladybird population!)

When choosing my degree, I was very much split between my head and my heart. I’d dreamt of studying zoology since primary school, but frequently found myself advised against this in favour of broader and more recognized degrees such as biology. After attending an open-day at the University of Manchester, there was no going back. I was well and truly sold as a zoologist.

The first year for all students in the faculty of life sciences is relatively similar. Students cover a wide range of topics, varying from molecular biology through to biodiversity and conservation. Although not all of these modules will initially be of interest, this provides everyone with a broad baseline knowledge which can be built upon and specialised throughout the later years. As a general rule, the majority of budding zoologists tend to hate anything to do with genetics and we would rather focus on animal behaviour, but unfortunately for us they come as a pair. We are entering an exciting age of genomics where virtually anything is possible, so an understanding of all the scary molecular stuff is essential.

Away from the taught lectures, the zoology course has a very strong emphasis on practical work throughout the entire degree; both field and lab based. This for me was what made Manchester really stand out. With access to state-of-the-art equipment, world-class facilities and leading professors, we were immersed in a cutting-edge research environment from our very first week as students.

The real selling point, however, is the range of field courses available. Throughout my degree I had the opportunity to wrestle lobsters at the Millport Marine Biological Station in Scotland, play with lion cubs while studying animal behaviour in South Africa and live with the remote Payamino tribe while researching tropical biology in the Ecuadorian rainforest. These amazing opportunities gave me experience in designing and completing my own independent research projects under the guidance of internationally recognised professors. Furthermore, going on these once in a lifetime adventures with great course mates really helped us to get to know each other – especially when you go without a shower in the jungle for two weeks!

The final year of study at the university is where all these skills are really brought together. We were given the chance to contribute to the cutting edge research completed in the faculty through an original research project of our choice. This forms a major part of the degree and provides an opportunity to really use what we have learnt over the previous years study.

The highlight of my zoology degree was easily my third year, which I spent on a 12-month research placement at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. During this time I had the opportunity to complete a major research project while assisting with the rescue and rehabilitation of sloths at the sanctuary. Furthermore, I was able to feature in a Discovery Channel sloth documentary which was an incredible experience and has opened many doors. I can honestly say that playing mum to a whole nursery of baby sloths is something I never thought I would end up doing when I chose to study zoology four years ago. This placement year was the longest learning curve for me. Besides the technical skills I acquired, I also developed the ability to problem solve and to think for myself when things don’t exactly go to plan – all of which are essential for anyone wishing to work out in the field!

This experience, which wouldn’t have been possible through any other university, has truly paved the way for my future career. I managed to leave the University of Manchester with a first class honours degree, three published papers and I am now starting work for my PhD back out with the sloths. I now have the dream of developing a rehabilitation and release program for the hand-raised baby sloths brought into the sanctuary, and the dramas of this challenge are going to be filmed for an eight-episode TV series later this year – perhaps I am tentatively following in the giant footsteps of Sir David Attenborough after all.

News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Travel
travel
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations should be regarded as an offensive act
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
News
people
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ecommerce Executive

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Ecommerce Executive Working with an...

Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Supply teaching - A great w...

Year 3 Teacher needed- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Look no further; this is the ...

Primary NQT Teachers

£95 - £105 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Opportunities for NQTs for the...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices