MY: I spent a number of years working in corporate retail management (for Sanrio, the Hello Kitty company, and Restoration Hardware) in Seattle. Within those positions, I was responsible for all aspects of retail management: hiring (and firing), scheduling, merchandising, managing inventory, and customer service.
CES: How did your time in those early jobs help you develop your current career pursuits?
MY: It was great experience that gave me a strong skill set that transferred over to my careers in animal care, and now, public relations. Amongst other skills I’ve had to develop, the ability to multitask and prioritize were crucial on-the-job skills, as well as strong people-management and public speaking skills. A willingness to do every aspect of a job—good, hard, dirty and seemingly-impossible—with a positive attitude and a willingness to continue to learn, were also important skill sets that carried over.
CES: How did your experiences at the University of Puget Sound prepare you for your career?
MY: At Puget Sound, I was an RA in Todd Hall during my sophomore year, and a Community Coordinator my last two years. During that time, I found that I really enjoyed helping to build and manage a sort of working community, and developed skills that would later serve me well in my role as a retail manager, entrepreneur and eventually, animal trainer!
MY: Not everyone who works at the aquarium has a degree in marine biology, oceanography, or animal care. People who work here come from a wide variety of professional and educational backgrounds, and it is that very diversity that adds to the depth of experience and very character of the aquarium.
CES: Monterey Bay Aquarium's mission is “to inspire conservation of the oceans.” Puget Sound students are interested in the environment and sustainability—what does that mission look like in action within your organization?
MY: The aquarium’s dedication to strong conservation practices influences just about every aspect of the organization, from the top down. Besides your average “green” practices (recycling and composting on-site, the use of energy-efficient aquarium vehicles, etc.), the aquarium also encourages and supports employees, volunteers, and the local community to dedicate their time and energy in conservation-themed outreach and programs. This is done through donations, and by allowing paid time-off for employees to dedicate time to designated projects.
In our latest temporary exhibit, “Hot Pink Flamingos: Stories of Hope in a Changing Sea,” the in-house exhibits team repurposed exhibit components from the former temporary exhibit, rather than the usual complete tear-down and rebuild that often happens with the construction of new exhibits at most zoos and aquariums. When we open our next temporary exhibit in the spring, we will once again repurpose as many components as possible from former exhibits, to cut down on waste.
CES: How did you break into the aquarium field and what has been your career path?
MY: Volunteering was the first step toward landing a position at the aquarium. I started off working with the African penguins, and shortly after that, the sea and river otters. While volunteering with the otters, I worked in the Conservation Research department, and then on the Seafood Watch team (educating consumers and companies about sustainable seafood choices).
Next, I was fortunate to be recruited to work full-time as a Sea Otter Aquarist, doing all aspects of animal care. That particular job was the “impossible dream” job that I had been advised to give up on, by any number of well-meaning coworkers, who pointed out that I didn’t have the educational or professional experience or educational background to meet the bare minimum requirements—coupled with the fact that the sea otter program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the premier sea otter program in the world, with a very small staff. Through a lot of hard, sweaty, dirty work, a refusal to give up on my dream of becoming a Sea Otter Aquarist, good timing and a bit of luck, I was able to land the job after a year of volunteering with the team, while working full-time in other departments. A couple of years later, I switched teams in the husbandry department, in order to become lead Aviculturist in charge of Magellanic penguins that were brought in for a temporary exhibit.
CES: How did you make the decision to pursue your current path? Were there pivotal moments?
MY: I loved my job in the animal training field. It was so much fun, challenging, and creative work, and I was fortunate to work with some amazing animals – sea otters, two species of river otters, penguins, and birds! And many of the husbandry staff I worked with shared a similar passion for animal care, and for the overall goal of inspiring ocean conservation, which was a very cool thing.
There were a few main reasons I decided to make the switch to join the aquariums’ public relations department: the animal training field is a very small field, and I wanted a job that would newly-inspire me to use some of my educational background, as an English major at Puget Sound—using both writing and communication skills. I also wanted a job that would provide a skill set that would allow me flexibility to live and work anywhere in the world, doing a job that inspired me to put on my creative-thinking hat on a regular basis and paid well—and public relations seemed a good fit. The other factor that was the final push, is that the animal care/training field is very physically-demanding work, and it can take its toll in the long run. I wanted to transition into another field, before my body made the decision for me.
CES: What are your duties and responsibilities in your current role at the Monterey Bay Aquarium?
MY: I am definitely an “odd duck” at the aquarium, having worked in a variety of departments, in very different roles, during my six years here (five, as a paid employee, the first as a volunteer in our Husbandry (animal care) department).
I’m currently the Administrative Coordinator for the aquarium’s Public Relations department. The title is deceptive, as only about 5% of my job actually involves administrative duties. The rest of my time is spent coordinating visits by the media, accompanying photographers, film studios and journalists while they’re on assignment here, writing and editing news releases and stories about the aquarium, and gathering, assigning, and distributing the various collateral materials PR is responsible for. The job requires the ability to multitask and prioritize, as well as the flexibility and focus to be able to adapt to constantly-changing situations. It’s challenging, creative and fun work, with a very cool team of people!
CES: What do you most enjoy about your work? Least enjoy?
MY: I am enjoying the intellectual and creative aspect to this job, whether it’s writing a news release that will be distributed to a local, national, or international audience, or serving as a project manager and coordinating logistics for a visiting production company.
I least enjoy the amount of desk time this job requires, as I was used to a very physically-demanding job before I came to work in our Public Relations department at the beginning of the year. I make sure to take regular trips to the aquarium, to walk around and remember a big part of the reason why I love working at the aquarium so very much (not everyone can boast an amazing oceanfront view from the office, to say the least).
CES: What has it been like to work in a variety of departments at the Aquarium and how did you make the transition from one to another?
MY: I grew up visiting the aquarium, from the day it opened back in 1984, and spent so much time exploring various exhibits, participating in trick-or-treating at Halloween, and watching the exhibits evolve and change over the years, that it felt like coming home by the time I started volunteering in the Blackfoot penguin exhibit six years ago. Shortly after that, I started volunteering with the sea and river otters, and almost immediately I decided that I wanted to be a Sea Otter Aquarist.
With that goal in mind, I did everything I could to make it happen—starting off working on a part-time contract position in the Conservation Research department, before being hired on to work in the Seafood Watch department. Over the year I worked for both departments, I volunteered as many hours as I could fit in to my schedule with the otter program, in order to gain as much experience as possible. This did end up helping me to land my dream job, as a Sea Otter Aquarist.
The Public Relations department was more than happy to welcome someone with so much diverse experience and knowledge about various departments within the aquarium to their team—especially the connections and working experience in the Husbandry department, which we work very closely with on a regular basis.
CES: What do you wish you had done or known during college that might have been beneficial to your career development?
MY: If I’d had any inkling at all, that I would later have such a passion for working in the animal care field, I would have been volunteering and interning at the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium! I used to take my books and do my homework in the beluga exhibit—and it was the coolest study hall ever!
CES: What can students do to stand out from other applicants?
MY: A well-written resume and cover letter will get me to notice you in the first place. Tailor each resume to each job you apply for, and don’t use the same version for every job you go after. Different skill sets apply to different jobs more so than others. Take the time to do some homework about the company you’re applying to, and the job specifics, so that you have some idea of the kinds of questions that might be asked. Run through practice interviews, if possible! And I always appreciate a hand-written thank you note, post-interview. Those little details stand out in my mind, and I will remember them when another position comes up. If possible, volunteering and interning is a great foot in the door, providing invaluable networking and experience!
CES: How can students overcome a lack of professional experience?
Be willing to do whatever it takes to get the job (even entry-level) that you want! I had zero professional experience working with animals when I was chosen—out of a pool of over a hundred other very well-qualified candidates—based on the commitment, hard work, positive and upbeat personality and attitude, and demonstrated willingness and ability to learn quickly on the job.
Remember to emphasize any informal education or life experience you may have, that can apply towards the job you’re shooting for. Did you have pets growing up that you helped care for, or taught tricks to? Did you volunteer at the local animal shelter, or pet sit? Those can all be examples of work that you’ve done in animal care, and shows that you have a true passion for working with animals.
CES: Do you have any other tips for students?
MY: Volunteer or take an internship to get some experience under your belt, and know that those kinds of positions can often serve as unofficial “working interviews,” so give your very best at every moment, every day!
No matter how many times you get a “no, thanks,” do not give up—keep working towards your goal if you really want it!
Mika Yoshida feeding female Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) Dulce in the Hot Pink Flamingos Magellanic penguin exhibit. © Monterey Bay Aquarium Photo By Randy Wilder
Mika Yoshida feeding Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) Whatever (left, female), Noodles (middle, male) and Dulce (right, female) in the Hot Pink Flamingos Magellanic penguin exhibit. © Monterey Bay Aquarium Photo By Randy Wilder
Aviculturist Mika Yoshida feeding common murres (Uria aalge). © Monterey Bay Aquarium Photo By Randy Wilder