Considered pursuing a career as a Zoologist? This interview will take you through the ups and downs you can expect, what it takes to land the job, what you can expect to earn and more.
My name is Dr. Jacob Vollmer, and I work as the resident zoologist at a poultry processing plant. I've worked in my current position for 8 years, and plan to remain here for the indefinite future. While many people expect a zoologist to be a researcher or a field biologist, there are many different careers that are possible in zoology. I originally expected to become a research scientist, but discovered there are several benefits when working in the private sector.
I've been interested in biology and nature since I was a child. Some of my earliest memories were of 'museums' that I built in my bedroom. I collected different plants, butterflies, and insects for displays in my room. I had all the aquariums and terrariums a young boy could have -- from the age of 6 onwards, I've had a freshwater fish aquarium, ant farms, turtle terrariums, and an outdoor compost unit with earthworms.
I went to college at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. I majored in biology as an undergrad. While Georgia Tech is known as an engineering school, they have a decent biology program. I received my masters in animal physiology at the University of Georgia, then went on to receive a PhD in zoology from UGA. Several of my professors had recommended me for a research position, but I was indecisive about a career path. I loved research, but I noticed that lots of my professors drove cars that were at least 5-10 years old. They weren't poor by any means -- they all received a good salary. However, I realized that there was more money to be made in the private sector.
My first job out of school was at a company that produced antibiotics for cattle. It was a relatively boring job. While I wasn't an entry-level technician, my role was mostly quality-control. I audited the antibiotics for contaminants, and traveled to meet with farmers in different areas of the southeast. I took biological samples from different cows, and analyzed them for the presence of different bacteria. I was earning approximately $35,000 a year while working for this company.
I developed a great relationship with one of the farmers I visited on a regular schedule. He owned several hundred acres of feed lots, poultry buildings, and dairy yards. We ended up talking for hours about his poultry building. I was amazed at the technology that a poultry building used. Many of the processes like feeding, watering, egg hatching, and more were automated with robots. He gave me some contact information, and I submitted my resume for a management-level position.
I met with a vice president of the company for my interview. He and I had both attended Georgia Tech for different majors. In addition, we were both in the same fraternity. We had several great conversations over the next few weeks, and I was hired for the position.
I never expected that I would end up working at a poultry processing plant, but I couldn't imagine working anywhere else. I'm directly involved with building different solutions for fertilizing eggs, hatching them, and growing them into delicious chickens.
The entire process from egg to plate has been industrialized. This has lowered the cost of bringing poultry to millions of people across the United States. One of the greatest achievements in my career was the elimination of a certain type of bacteria in unhatched eggs. This bacterium was transferred from fecal matter to an egg after it was laid. Due to the unique structure of this bacterium, it was able to penetrate the calciferous shell surrounding the egg.
We discovered that a certain antibiotic cocktail could be introduced into the feed for an egg-laying hen. Small quantities of the antibiotic would be introduced into the unhatched egg. This would prevent the growth of bacterium before a chick has hatched. One of the great advantages of this technology is the minimal impact on the consumer. The final poultry product has no trace levels of antibiotics, since these are flushed from the chicken as it grows.
My currently salary is $180,000 a year. I work with an exciting team of engineers, biochemists, and industrial designers. While I miss the excitement that comes with a career in research, it's amazing to think how the new technologies we have developed have lowered the cost of food for millions of people.
There are some opportunities for research in my current position, but I can't follow research that isn't related to poultry. While I do miss research, my current salary is more than adequate compensation. Zoology is a great major for everyone -- it offers opportunities in research, food science, industrial production, and more.
This is a true career story as told to DiversityJobs and is one of many interviews with marine biologists and animal caretakers, among other careers.