Since I graduated in 2003 with a bachelor's in biology, my professional life has been an on-again, off-again drama. Should I move to a graduate programme straight away? Or should I test the waters outside of the hallowed halls of academia? I chose the latter.

I'm glad I did. I had little wind left in my jib after four tough years. The challenge has been to remain active and keep my mind astute in the ever-changing fields of biology and ecology. Small, volunteer gigs and journal-reading sufficed for a while, but I soon became more aggressive in applying for full-time positions.

I first targeted biology departments and also sought private-sector and federal positions. Many opportunities I saw were for full-time volunteers, most requiring major expense and lasting a short time. Then in early 2005 I spotted a volunteer post at the Primate Habituation Programme at the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park in the Central African Republic. I had never been there and had never worked with primates. With a one-year commitment, I wouldn't feel like a tourist. I applied, got the position and was soon on my way.

The goal of the programme, based at a camp called Bai Hokou, is to acclimatize western lowland gorillas and semi-terrestrial mangabeys to the presence of humans. An eco-tourism programme was set up with the backing of the government, the conservation charity WWF and the German aid agency GTZ. The revenue is placed in a programme for local communities. Tourists have been visiting since 2001, although acclimatization efforts are labour-intensive and ongoing.

The position enabled me to witness a new model of wildlife conservation that had to weather poachers and limited government supervision. It was a stark contrast to the carefully choreographed efforts I'd seen in the United States.

Because I was either fixing fuses, cooking over a wood fire or following gorillas, I gave little thought to what would come next. So, since coming home, I'm once again excruciatingly over-analysing my career options.

I now plan to capitalize on the discipline and intellectual stimulation I gained in the Congo basin by pursuing a master's degree in evolutionary biology with an emphasis on conservation. In the mean time, I'm doing public presentations about working with wild animals in an effort to raise awareness of conservation issues.