This is a post written by Avishai Shuter, and up-and-coming zoologist who lives in his parents house while waiting to hear back from the Bronx Zoo about open positions.
People don’t know what to say because they see a college graduate working for free when I should be making a living.
The thing is, there’s no crying in this job market, you need to get your foot in the door somehow. With unemployment at a staggering 9.2 percent, beggars (i.e. new college graduates) can’t be choosers. I started volunteering at the Bronx Zoo when I was in high school, and I’ve put in hundreds of hours over the course of about seven years. While some may see this endeavor as pointless, it has given me a number of unique opportunities.
Putting in time at a place like the Bronx Zoo allowed me to collect invaluable hands-on experience I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. I now possess applicable skills and knowledge that will help me perform any necessary task I may encounter in my future in this field. This is the most obvious benefit, but one that shouldn’t be underestimated.
This has to do with the previous topic, but it relates to the theoretical version of you. Your resume is, quite literally, what you look like on paper. When searching for a job, the theoretical you can sometimes be more important than the real thing. By the time I got to college, my resume was nearly three pages long, filled with useful experiences I had gained in my time working for free.
Career Preview and Culture
Because I hope to make my career in the world of zoology, it has been an amazing learning experience seeing how zoos work from the inside. As much as people think they know about a profession from TV or movies, the reality is often much different from speculation. There are thousands of tiny details and nuances that make up the personality of a workplace. The Bronx Zoo has a culture unique to it, and becoming accustomed to that culture was part of the fun of the job. (For instance, if something goes missing or is mysteriously moved, we often blame it on the ghost, Ditmars- referring to the long deceased curator, Raymond Ditmars).
By volunteering for such a long time, I have become part of the zoological community. Despite the fact that many volunteers often feel like they aren’t part of the organization for which they work, I certainly never felt that way. Make an effort and you will be accepted. This means that I now have a wide expanse of mentors, in many different places (geographically and professionally), upon whom I can rely and call on for help. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
After all is said and done, I feel good for helping an organization I believe in (in this case, the Wildlife Conservation Society, which owns the Bronx Zoo). I basically grew up in the Bronx Zoo, and the staff there has become a second family to me. I feel good knowing I’ve contributed to the overall knowledge of the zoological community, helped endangered species, and expanded my own knowledge. I enjoy that because, as you all know, feeling good just feels good.
Volunteering can be a very enriching experience depending on how you view it. You’ll hate it if you simply view it as working for free when you could be getting paid. Volunteering in a field that interests you can pay off in the short and long term. So don’t think of it as working for free, think of it as having a job that pays minimum wage in that $0 is the minimum amount of money you can physically give someone.