Collie Ennis is a research associate in the Department of Zoology at Trinity College Dublin, a dream job for the man who grew up obsessed with bugs and reptiles. He explains the unconventional route he took to his current role.
Research Associate in Zoology Department
Trinity College Dublin
Can you explain your job?
I look after the practical handling of the animals- so I go on field trips with the university students and show them how to handle the creatures and do proper record keeping. I was always interested in small animals as a child and I gravitated towards other people who were interested in this type of thing too. As a group we set up the Herpetological Society of Ireland, which works on record keeping of our native lizards, newts and frogs. I work with DCC trying to get the parks up to scratch, in terms of conservation work. We worked on getting UNESCO status for North Bull Island because we have a local population of lizards out there. I also work as a security guard in TCD, so I’m sort of like Hagrid from Harry Potter.
You took an unconventional route to this job. Can you explain?
Through my conservation work, I got talking to the Zoology department in TCD- they knew I had knowledge of this and they gave me the position of Research Associate and now I travel the world with them. I did a bit of work on public outreach for open days and it snowballed from that. I’m just back from Kenya with the college, looking for scorpions and snakes and sometimes I have to pinch myself. I grew up in Crumlin, and I didn’t realise being into animals and natural history was a pathway to a job. You just took a trade. I feel strongly about the Trinity Access Programme (TAP) which I do talks for, which encourages kids from my background to come to college and lets them know it’s open to them, if they have an interest in it. I feel like that is really important, there are kids out there who love this kind of thing but they don’t realise they have the option of making a career in this.
Did school encourage you to pursue your interest in animals?
I was seen as a bit of an oddball in school. I used to stare out the window at the trees and wanted to go out collecting beetles and frogs, so no, I wasn’t encouraged to do that and it was just ‘read your books and do your exams’. I did the Leaving Cert and went to be an electrician but then the crash happened. I was coaching a karate class in Trinity and got an offer of a security job there and then through that I hung around annoying the zoology department. I still do both jobs (security and research associate) but it doesn’t bother me because it gives me the chance to do something I love. I took Biology for the Leaving Cert but it wasn’t on my radar, to go to college. Where I came from you were either a plumber, a painter or an electrician. My parents were cool about my interest in nature and I absorbed books but with regards to going to college and making a career out of it, absolutely not. Not because they were holding me back but because it wasn’t on our radar. I think it’s so important to get that message out there, there is an option to do a job like this, if you want it and you work for it.
What do you love about your job?
I focus on invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians and I really like taking students somewhere where they are flipping a rock and discovering something they might not have seen before and seeing them light up about it. There was a brilliant moment recently, on the Masia Mara in Kenya with a group of students. There were elephants and giraffes all around, the really charismatic animals but the kids were just flipping rocks, seeing what is underneath, and I thought my job here is done. There’s a micro world out there that is just as interesting.
What inspires you in your job?
I get inspiration from my peers and colleagues and being around people who have a vast wealth of knowledge is inspiring. Working in conservation has been very cool, there are so many people out there at the coal face, working hard, without thanks and applause and that’s admirable.
What advice would you give to anyone who is considering this as a career?
If you have a passion for it, the options are there and really go for it. Don’t feel like you have to do what your father did or your brothers, if you have a passion and you want to make a difference then do it. And you can make a difference.
Do you have a good work/life balance?
I have three jobs and it’s tough. I’d love to work full time in Science or conservation but I have two young kids and I’m not going to sacrifice their futures for my dreams and I want to see them go to college. If the opportunity comes up I’ll grab it but at the moment I am pretty blessed to be doing what I’m doing.
Will you encourage your own kids to choose Science?
Whatever they want to do I am happy with. I do give them a nudge towards it and they naturally do gravitate towards the natural world. My daughter is into the animals but my son is more into Maths. I feel it’s important to go to college. It gives young people a different outlook on life and lets them mature and find their own path. Trinity is a magical place and they have been my second family. I regret not going to college and I’d love to go back and get the piece of paper to back up my knowledge and I will be going straight into adult education when the kids grow up and move on.
Would you like work experience in a zoo or a lab? Check out our TY Opportunities page to discover placements in Zoology, Geology and lots more!
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