Turtle swimming in the sea

March 9, 2023, by Leah Sharpe

A Sea of New Possibilities: How a Month in Mexico Helped Shape My Future Career

By Jack Roberts, Zoology graduate

The International Work Experience Grant (IWEG) offers funding to University of Nottingham undergraduate students to support overseas work experience. IWEG is designed to enable students to undertake work experience opportunities that they might not otherwise be able to afford, such as paid internships with a private sector business, a volunteering opportunity, work shadowing and an unpaid internship with a registered charity, voluntary organisation, associated fundraising body or statutory body.

Read on to hear Jack’s experience in Southern Mexico with Operation Wallacea:

This summer I travelled to the Yucatan Peninsula in Southern Mexico with Operation Wallacea, an international research and conservation organisation with projects across the globe. During the first half of the month-long project, myself and 30 other international volunteers assisted terrestrial research scientists in the Selva Maya, a forest the size of Wales. Activities included capture and release of bird and bat species, analysis of collected data, and conducting surveys on local species.

In the second half of my trip, I travelled to the OPWALL marine research site on the Mexican coast. Here we learned how to scuba dive before we began to assist in the vital research being carried out there, focusing on coral reef restoration and conservation of the local turtle population.

My challenges and accomplishments

Whilst this trip only lasted a month, it was unforgettable. The opportunity to experience the realities of life as a practical biologist highlighted the fact that it can be very challenging but always rewarding. During my brief time in Mexico, I found that these go hand in hand, as the greatest challenge I faced also resulted in my greatest accomplishment. Part of the reason I chose a trip with a marine biology component was due to a lifelong fear of deep water, something which effectively cut me off from one of the most fascinating fields in zoology. I had never experienced anything like diving, and on the boat ride to our first deep-water dive I was terrified, as were many of my friends. The second I fell back into the water, my fears evaporated. I was fascinated by every tiny thing I saw around me, amazed by an environment entirely different from anything I had experienced before. A week later I was a certified diver and I am looking forward to getting my next qualification before the year is up, as my greatest fear became one of my new passions.

What now?

Like many people, after leaving university I found myself facing a dilemma surrounding my future career path. While there are many potential options available to a zoology graduate, I have had relatively little practical experience in any of them. So how should I choose my next step? I didn’t want to choose my future randomly. Thanks to this trip, that has changed. Experiencing first-hand what it meant to conduct practical research has confirmed that further study and a potential career in academia is what I want to pursue, but not in the field I had originally considered! Whilst I had previously discounted marine biology as a career, learning to dive and seeing how it is carried out in the field has encouraged me to pursue it academically, and I am currently applying for postgraduate study options. But I don’t want to just observe and study these environments, I want to help change them for the better.

My learning

Experiencing life in these fascinating disciplines has been invaluable to my own development as a zoologist. This trip has given me more direction in my future career plans, narrowing the field of potential jobs by eliminating some and introducing others I had previously never considered. I would really recommend that anyone else in a similar position to me consider this unique opportunity. Work experience in a potential career not only provides direction but will also create lifelong memories, allow you to form relationships with people in your field and improve your employment prospects.


Posted in International Work Experience Grant