50: 50 – Working While you Study

We all know how difficult it can be to finance those hefty academic fees. Some of you may be lucky enough to win a scholarship and some might simply have two very generous parents. However, the majority of us are left with the choice of giving up on furthering your education on the simple basis that you cannot afford it or are forced to juggle work whilst studying – this is what Kyle Walker from Pidwa Wilderness Reserve in South Africa does.

Kyle is currently studying his Nature Conservation BTEC via Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, but required a job in order to support himself through his studies. Luckily enough he’s managed to bag himself a position on Pidwa Wilderness Reserve as a Ranger and Undergraduate Researcher, monitoring the endangered African White-backed Vultures and managing the reserves Sable Breeding Project. Here Kyle shares the benefits gained from working whilst studying and news on his current vulture project.

Kyle hard at work securing a sedated Sable Antelope, Pidwa Wilderness Reserve, South Africa (Credit: Elecia Stryjdom).

Kyle hard at work securing a sedated Sable Antelope, Pidwa Wilderness Reserve, South Africa (Credit: Elecia Stryjdom).

Why have you chosen to further your academic career Kyle, instead of just gaining a permanent position as a ranger?

The driving factor was probably my ceaseless need to ask how, where, and why not? Working as a ranger for an owner of a private reserve can sometimes constrain my ideas about conservation, but with research I have found a way to channel those questions into important findings, that can have potentially beneficial applications for populations across the country. Another reason is my passion for raptor species; I’ve had the chance to survey the likes of Peregrine Falcons in the Cape Peninsular and Taita Falcons in the Blyde River Canyon. Its experiences like these that prove to me that research can offer me a whole lot more, than a permanent position as a ranger ever could.

A juvenile Bateleur perches after it detects an impala carcass first (Credit: Kyle Walker).

A juvenile Bateleur perches after it detects an impala carcass first (Credit: Kyle Walker).

How do you manage your time so that neither your coursework/work tasks are neglected?

At the moment I am jumping between a full time job working on the reserve, a raptor research project and university work. Unfortunately working on a reserve does not offer a predictable schedule and I find a lot of my daily plans often get changed. Sometimes it might mean getting up at 4 am before work to finish that last part of my ethics proposal before heading off to work, but being busy all day also means I’m learning constantly too.

I hear you’re big into your vulture conservation, could you tell us a bit about the vulture research project you are hoping to conduct for your BTECH?

I have become extremely passionate about the vultures on the reserve over the last year. I found 14 African White-back Vultures were fledging by 2014 and the success prompted me to follow up with a research project into vulture ecology. I am currently writing a proposal to determine the effect of bush encroachment on the foraging success of the African White-backed Vulture and other scavenging avian and terrestrial scavengers. My hope is to determine at what percent of vegetation cover, carcases are no longer located by vultures. Although vultures do locate carcases alone, they also acquire information from other scavenging species about the location of carcases. With the increased vegetation densities, vultures may begin to rely solely on other scavenging species with higher searching efficiencies rather than locate carcases alone. For now, testing the effect of bush encroachment on vultures is my main aim. However in the future I would like to look into the importance of other scavenging species for vulture populations.

A juvenile African White-backed Vulture caught on a camera trap, ready to fledge after Kyle rebuilt the nest after a bush fire (Credit: Kyle Walker).

A juvenile African White-backed Vulture caught on a camera trap, ready to fledge after Kyle rebuilt the nest after a bush fire (Credit: Kyle Walker).

If you weren’t working to support yourself right now, would furthering your education be off the cards?

To be honest getting where I am right now would have been impossible without my extremely supportive parents that have financially backed me through my higher education in South Africa. Working full-time on a reserve provides many benefits which other jobs can’t, such as free accommodation and a group of colleagues to share food costs with. Therefore I would definitely suggest to people if you’re going to work to support yourself, try and get in a role that has good benefits and is related to the direction you want your career to go in. Having a job whilst studying has definitely made life more comfortable and as a student any income is extremely appreciated.

What advice would you give to someone that wanted to either pre-raise funding for their studies or study and work part-time?

  • Definitely keep your life structured and organised.
  • Make sure that your employer knows that you are studying and understands your time constraints because at the end of the day studying will improve your knowledge of the working environment, which makes you a greater asset to the company.
  • When trying to find funding for your project, make sure you have all your ducks in a row and are organised with your proposal before you apply for funding. Funders want to know how your research will benefit them to ensure their money isn’t being wasted.
four

Kyle raking the summer grass on the airstrip with Blyde River Canyon mountain range in the background (Credit: Garth Bowen).

 

What are the benefits of working whilst studying?

Definitely getting an income helps the student budget. No more skimping on 2 minute noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner! My day to day life remains fairly structured and I am always busy. At the same time I am constantly exposed to the practical side of my studies, so I am constantly learning. I’ve learnt how to drive tractors, weld, game capture and general maintenance of the reserve. The nearest town is about 75km away; so many basic jobs require a lot of improvisation. This constantly challenges me to come up with new ideas that are often a bit unorthodox in order to find a solution to the problem.

Kyle’s uniquely designed hide used to observe vultures whilst feeding at a carcass (Credit: Kyle Walker).

Kyle’s uniquely designed hide used to observe vultures whilst feeding at a carcass (Credit: Kyle Walker).

In terms of career prospects, where do you see yourself after your masters?

I would like to go into avian surveying and monitoring. This may mean taking a position at a small consultancy company or getting myself into a larger NGO such as BirdLife South Africa or the Endangered Wildlife Trust. I have also really enjoyed my time in the bush, if I could continue to work on a reserve whilst pursuing my career with raptors that would be ideal.

Can you describe your favourite sighting in the bush for us?

New Year’s Eve in the Tuli Block, Botswana. We had a late game drive and were on our way home and I spotted a young female Leopard stalking an unsuspecting herd of Impala. We began to slowly drive after her and she began to use the cover of the vehicles lights to aid her stalk. The stalk lasted about 5 minutes until she scattered the herd and made a kill. We followed her whist she dragged the Impala over to a shepherd’s tree and slowly pulled the carcass up behind her. She lay on a branch out of breath for a while and you could see she was extremely satisfied with herself. Someone noticed the time and the clock had just struck 12:00. Happy New Year’s everyone!

A Leopard after hauling its Warthog kill up a Marula tree to remain safe from terrestrial scavengers in the Kruger National Park (Credit: Katie Rooke).

A Leopard after hauling its Warthog kill up a Marula tree to remain safe from terrestrial scavengers in the Kruger National Park (Credit: Katie Rooke).

What’s your favourite animal and why?

I have to appreciate the awe inspiring presence of Elephants. Elephants are extremely intelligent and being in close contact with them definitely fills you with a sense of respect for the much larger mammal. If they are given the time to contemplate your encounter with them, they are often extremely calm and inquisitive. Having a close encounter still gives me and awesome adrenaline rush and can quiet easily make my day!

seven

An African Elephant grazing in the savanna plains at dusk (Credit: Ryan Mitchell).

 

If you’d like to read the account of Kyle building the African White-backed vultures nest up after the bush fire, you can download the article here published in The Vulture News 2014 issue 67.

Careers Advice