Career Transition: From Zookeeping to Project Management 

Published on February 25, 2022

The question that I get most often when people see my credentials is: “Your degree is in…what?!” 

My dream job growing up was to work with animals; I wanted to be a zookeeper. I poured my heart and soul into reaching that dream by volunteering at my local zoo, getting my bachelor of science degree in animal biotechnology and conservation: zoo science, participating in several unpaid internships, and doing anything I could to network within the zoo community. I eventually reached my goal of becoming a full-time zookeeper after many cross-country moves for seasonal and temporary positions, lots of hard work, and a steady diet of ramen noodles. I’m incredibly fortunate that I was able to fulfill my childhood dream of becoming a zookeeper. I’ll always cherish my time as a keeper; the friends I made and the memories of the animals I cared for will last a lifetime.  

It certainly wasn’t an easy decision to make, but switching careers was the best thing I’ve ever done for my own health and well-being. Zookeeping is considered by many to be a “calling” rather than a career, which made leaving the field that much more difficult. All my work experience was in animal care. All my friends were zookeepers. All my reading was zookeeping-related literature and peer-reviewed journals. I felt as if I was no longer interesting to people I met. I was no longer “me.” Keeping was my whole identity. A lot of people asked me, “Well, then, why would you ever leave?” 

I left my childhood dream to pursue a new one: a life where I’d be paid a fair wage and have enough time off to spend with my loved ones and the peace of mind (and body) that comes with working a job that I knew would be fulfilling but not mentally and physically draining. 

The most pivotal moment for me during my career transition was the moment that an incredible boss and mentor asked me, “Kelly, where do you see yourself in your career? What are you interested in?” I replied that I’d been considering project management because it matched my skill set. She smiled and said, “Great. I think so, too, but I didn’t want to influence your decision.” After that conversation, I dove into learning more about project management. I went on to obtain my Certified Associate in Project Management certification and later my Project Management Professional certification. It turned out that I had more transferrable skills than I gave myself credit for! Best of all, I branched out and figured out who I am outside my profession. My identity is not entirely wrapped up in my job, but I do absolutely love what I do every day!  

I’m extremely proud that my position allows me to work with incredible clients and amazing colleagues on truly important work. My goal every day is to set my clients and colleagues up for success and help them use their unique talents to make the world a better place. It’s so rewarding, and since I work from home, I even get to rock sweatpants while doing it! I do often miss my animals, but my career change to project manager was the best decision I’ve ever made. They say that project management is like herding cats, so maybe that’s why it’s such a good fit! 


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