Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Best Career Decision I Ever Made

Okay, I'm going to tell all of you out there a secret.  Yes, all of you.  Not just the aspiring trainers, but the established trainers, too.  

I have found this amazing resource that makes me a better trainer.  No, seriously.  I've found it and want to tell you about it, because hello? Who doesn't want to be a better trainer?  Here's a quick list of what this resource lets me do:

* Improve my animal training skills

Skills such as: crouching for extended periods of time

Yeah, I learn a lot from the people and animals I work with and that is invaluable.  But my world is totally opened up by this particular thing.  I can talk to anyone in the world about questions I have, and uh, let me tell you I've had a lot of questions about training scenarios, habitat questions, and even career advice.  I can contact people directly or poll a bunch of trainers in an online forum about something.  Seriously, I've learned so much and have had the animals at my facility impacted directly by some of the awesome stuff I've seen and learned on this resource.   It's awesome!!

* Improve my management skills

We all work on Saturdays, anyway.

This resource basically outlines how you can develop a training staff.  It's standardized but flexible enough to apply to your own facility, which is great because not every place is the same.  Most importantly is the fact that it's critical for managers and supervisors to be on their A-game when it comes to training trainers (and that includes interns, too)!  You can't have a great animal care program without a dedicated, cohesive and motivated team.  If any of you out there are in any sort of managerial or coaching role, you know how much work it is (but it's the best!).  This resource I found actually gives you a strong foundation to stand on and build from there.  

* Network with colleagues AND the people I really admire (the gurus!)

I wish Dwight was part of my network. 

Okay, so maybe you've already deduced that this resource is great for networking because I just said I can reach out to trainers all over the world and get answers I'm having trouble finding.  But it's one of my favorite things to meet new people, stay in touch with them, and in some cases collaborate on projects with people I've never met in person.  Yet we can create a lot of positive change at our respective facilities!  Plus, there are definitely people in this field who put stars in my eyes, and this resource lets me actually connect with those people.  

* Attract awesome people to my facility whether interns or trainers

I mean, if this isn't an example of a great team, I don't know what is. 

This resource is a super, super easy to use if you're looking for interns or trainers to hire on at your facility.  You get the best of the best, because not just anyone can look at the job postings you put up there.  And remember the whole thing about networking?  Yeah, you don't just do that with your gurus and colleagues.  You can meet and make meaningful rapports with prospective employees and and interns, too.  That's a pretty amazing tool to have, considering how important it is to hire the right fit for your team. 

* Helps me keep up with conservation topics

Like this poor dolphin in the Tampa area, who you can read about here

Why are we all ultimately in this field? Yes, of course we adore the animals at work, but don't we all have a driving passion to connect to the general public?  To hopefully inspire them to connect to these animals and the plight their wild counterparts face?  But if I'm being totally honest, sometimes I get overwhelmed by all of the issues that require conservation efforts.  Don't get me wrong, each one of those issues is important and deserves a solution.  But there are so many (and how sad is that).  This resource I found highlights conservation efforts and puts them right at my fingertips, so I can easily keep up with them and stay informed.  Yet another way it helps me be a better marine mammal trainer.

* Oh, and I get to go to cool conferences

Wait, who's that on the right? If you guessed "Some chick playing Trainer Jeopardy", you're right!

A massive perk, to say the least, that also allows me to do all of the aforementioned items I've just listed.

So what's this mysterious resource I'm talking about?  This resource to which I credit my personal success in this field?

Oh yeah!

If your answer was International Marine Animal Trainers Association (IMATA), you're a winner!  (And if you guessed something else, that tells me you know another really awesome thing that you need to tell me about ASAP)."Ohhhh puh-leeze," I can hear some of you saying.  "IMATA? Is this like a commercial for IMATA or something?"

Don't be like that!

No, seriously, it's not.  Obviously, I'm partial to it because it really has made me a better trainer.  It MAKES me a better trainer.  In fact, no lie, I am in the process of connecting with other facilities right now to try to help out a training issue we've been having at my current facility.  I use IMATA's online forum and directory all the time, and have since I was an intern.

Still skeptical?  You know, I've heard people say some weird things about IMATA and get kind of defensive when they explain why they aren't members of it.  Most of the people I've worked with at four other facilities use the resources IMATA offers members on a regular basis, so when I hear about other trainers who are all like "Whatever!!!" about it it really shocks me.  Here are some of the things I've heard people say:

"IMATA is just for finding a job, and I already have my dream job."

Yeah, samesies

Congratulations! Yeah, IMATA can help you find a job.  And if you are working at the Best Place Ever in your estimation, that's awesome!!  However, you're not going to be the best trainer you can be if you cut yourself off from other facilities, trainers, and training styles.  I don't care how big or small your staff is, or how innovative your team is.  Maybe your facility is state-of-the-art, or you've been published a zillion times.  The thing is, once you cut yourself off from learning from other people, you've stifled your potential.

Between the three of us, we've worked at nine different facilities (not including our internships).  That's a lot of shared experience and different perspectives.  These are just two people who are not only amazing friends, but have contributed to my success and learning as a trainer.  

IMATA is not just for finding a job.  It's finding other people you can inspire, who can inspire you, and in some cases get you out of a rut.  This isn't just for animal training stuff, either.  If you have anything to do with developing trainers or interns, you can talk to a bunch of other people about it in whatever format you want.  What about enrichment ideas?  Do you think your Dream Job has all the good ideas in the entire field?  C'mon, no way.  That's why IMATA is awesome; you connect to those new ideas AND you provide the same inspiration to someone else.

Buuuut it is a pretty good resource for getting internships and jobs.

"You only join IMATA to go to the conference, and I don't want to/cannot go."

The conferences ARE fun.  But there's way more to IMATA than the conference.

Bahhhh why do people say this?  The conference IS awesome, and no it may not be easy to get to for some of us depending on our personal circumstances.  But after all of the benefits I've talked about in this blog, can we all agree now that IMATA is not just about the annual conference?

"It's too expensive!"

Trainers be broke, it's true.

I'm not one to judge people's personal finances.  I also know we marine mammal trainers aren't driving to work in a Rolls Royce convertible every day (I usually just drive mine on my weekend).  Some of us eat dinner out of a can.  I totally get that, and everyone's circumstances are different and not for anyone to judge. 

But... it's a priceless career resource.  Depending on where you're at in the field, you're looking at spending $40 to $75 a YEAR.  A year.  I'm not very good at math, but I think that's more manageable than it seems for many of us.

Let's use me as an example. There's this amazing donut place near where I live.  I LOVE donuts and try to eat them as often as I can.  My favorite donut costs $0.80.  If I get one of those every day, each day of the year, then I spend $292 on donuts.  OMG wait, that's a lot of money.  I SPEND ALMOST THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS A YEAR ON DONUTS AND I AM NOT ASHAMED.

You're worth every penny. <3

I digress.  I spend $75 a year on my IMATA membership.  That basically amounts to saving $0.26 a day for a year.  That's easy.  I could find that in the street each day.  Come to think of it, I could probably fund an IMATA membership for two years if I took all the random coins in my car and actually organized it.  

If you can spare a quarter a day, it's WORTH the expense.  It is.  I've been in the field 10 years and I am a supervisor at a small facility.  That means I made my way up the ladder relatively quickly...and I did it largely in part to using many of IMATA's resources.  And I still use them just as much as I did when I first joined and was clambering for my first internship.

"But I really don't need to network."

Get out of here.

This makes me so sad when I hear trainers say this.  I know they are touting their awesome workplace and great management.  But it's not just about YOU getting cool insight from other places, it's about you sharing your own experiences with other people.  It's a two-way street, and the more people (especially people who are happy at their facilities!) are involved with IMATA the larger and deeper the idea pool gets.

Plus, you can catch up with old friends!

So yes, you really DO need to network.  For yourself, and for the rest of us who want to hear what you have to say!

And the IMATA conference?  That's just like the icing on the cake.  If you only make it to one conference your entire career, it's worth it.  You'll make at least one new friend.  You will be inspired by at least one presentation.  You'll get to see how another facility does its thing on a site visit.  Plus, it's never a bad time when a bunch of animal trainers let loose.  What does all of that do?  It directly benefits the animals you go home to; you're bringing a fresh perspective and new ideas back to those guys.  

The day we as trainers stop wanting to improve ourselves as animal trainers and caretakers is a day we have to re-evaluate our career decisions.  IMATA is the easiest way ever to keep that fire stoked.  It is the best investment I've made, and the best resource I've found.  I credit much of my success to it and want all of you to have the same experience!

What are you waiting for? Join IMATA!


  1. What a great blog post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts - this is great for aspiring trainers and us old folk alike.

  2. The forum really has been a great resource for me, even in the small amount I've used it. It's always interesting to hear the current trainers discuss their training techniques and solutions.

    Hopefully I'll be able to attend a conference in at least one of the next few years, it sounds like a fantastic and useful time!