This is a post to my fellow School of Ocean Science 2018 graduates. Congratulations! You stuck it out, and you made it. No matter how much you wanted to quit, how many times you said you were going to quit or how many times you had a breakdown in the library over a report or essay. You got there, and you should be so proud of yourself!
Some of you might be a little unsure of what to do with your degree and new-found freedom. So, I decided to hassle the people that have gotten us to this point, for a little life advice now that we’re graduates.
Dr Andrew Davies, Senior Lecturer specialising in Intertidal and deep-sea ecology, now lecturing at the University of Rhode Island:
Never stop learning, never stop trying. Learning is a life-long process, university gives you an abundance of skills that you can use to self-teach, we all do it, just bring this to the fore. Think of where you might not be most comfortable, stats for example, push yourself to learn, get over those thresholds. Practice R, GIS and other skills that will be useful in your future careers.
In professional life, you will get knocked back, it happens to everyone. Whether it’s a PhD application, master’s or jobs. Give yourself time to heal and then put it in the past, but first, extract every lesson that you can from the experience (note though that sometimes everything might have gone really well, and it is just a random chance thing). Go into the next one stronger, it will get easier and you will be successful.
Dr James Waggitt, lecturer specialising in the foraging distributions of cetaceans and seabirds:
If pursuing a career in marine and conservation science, have some patience and do not get disheartened if things do not happen quickly. There is nothing wrong with having a “normal” job whilst you wait for opportunities – we all have bills to pay and lives to lead! However, have a long-term strategy. For instance, I worked back at home for 6 months in the winter with the intention of saving-up some funds. The funds allowed me to volunteer for 6 months in the summer. During this time, I gained valuable experiences and useful contacts. Do not discount volunteering in the UK – and also for things which do not involve habitats or species of interest – most important skills are transferable. Finally, it is never too late to go into science – so even if it takes a few years, keep going.
Professor Michel Kaiser, Senior marine conservation lecturer specialising on sustainable food production systems and fisheries. Now Science and Standards Director for the Marine Stewardship Council:
Be prepared to be flexible and open-minded about future careers, if you think a job could be interesting even if it isn’t ideally what you want to do, go for it. You can always a) turn a job offer down, and b) apply for another job if it doesn’t work out. You’re always more employable if you are working rather than drawing social security.
All major food retailers and seafood processing companies tend to employ marine biologists to head up their sourcing of sustainable seafood products from wild capture fisheries and aquaculture. The Marine Stewardship Council alone has employed 70 marine biologist’s since January 2017. UK Government organisations with the largest teams of marine scientists include: National Oceanography Centre, British Antarctic Survey, CEFAS, Marine Scotland, Environment Agency, Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage, Plymouth Marine Laboratory.
Mr Tomas Cornwell, PhD student and lecturer specialising in marine ecology and animal behaviour:
If you know what you want to do, it’ll make searching for advice and opportunities all that much easier. Be proactive and go do it! If you do not know, don’t be afraid to have a wander off the path. Be patient (to a degree) and aim to pick up as much experience as possible. There is a lot to be said for academic qualifications but the more you can do, the more opportunities will present themselves later on.
Dr Jaco Baas, Reader of fine particle dynamics specialising in erosion, transport and deposition of fine, cohesive sediment:
When students ask me about their future careers, I focus on two things:
- Work hard and play hard. Good grades come with hard work (attend all lectures, practicals, but also keep up with revision to increase understanding), but ‘switching off’ periods are also crucially important. The right balance is key.
- Make sure the CV stands out from peers. Even very good students need to be proactive in doing extracurricular activities related to their degree, such as work placements and internships, to be competitive in the job market. If they do this right, these students may even be able to choose between jobs.
Dr Dei Huws, senior lecturer in Marine Geophysics focusing on; tropical palaeo-climate studies, marine archaeological studies and marine engineering applications:
I have three all learnt from experience – none of which I fully appreciated at the outset:
- Do your homework on the company and, if possible, some of the personnel. So, make sure that you show that you’ve done some research by quoting things related to that company in your covering letter e.g. “I notice in the latest Maritime News that you’ve recently been awarded a contract to … This is exactly the sort of project that I would find an exciting challenge…” And at the interview, be armed with similar information.
- Never underestimate the importance of nurturing contacts by reference to other people you may know. Sometimes you have to apply to a company ‘cold’, not knowing anyone there. But if you attend trade shows such as Oceanology or Ocean Business, take care to get the names of people you talked to e.g. “I had a conversation with John Smith, your Operations Manager, and ….” Do this whenever the opportunity arises. Humans like to have connections with each other. Check-out LinkedIn for SOS alumni. That’s an instant connection. They may know of jobs going in their company (or others).
- Your ‘dream job’ may never materialise; but learn to recognise when you’re happy somewhere; but then again, learn when you’re not as well. For the latter, don’t stay if your well-being is suffering.
Dr Yueng-Djern Lenn, Polar physical oceanographer focusing on the polar ocean circulation and the role it plays in global climate change:
Play to your strengths and be open to new opportunities as life will surprise you. If you find a vocation in life in which you get to pursue the interests in which you have the most aptitude, and where you are serving your family and community, then you will have all you need to achieve great things.
Dr Mattias Green, Reader in Physical Oceanography focusing on tidal interactions with components of the Earth’s System over long timescales:
Get a relevant skill set by boosting your CV through volunteer work and internships. If you continue on to a masters/PhD, put a lot of effort into your dissertation/thesis project (and pick a project that will give you what you need for your future career). Be prepared to move.
Professor Jan Geert Hiddink, lecturer specialising in effects of human disturbance on benthic ecosystems:
My advice is to focus on things you are good at and enjoy doing, and make sure you give the highest priority to things that are most important.
When applying for jobs, specifically address all the criteria in your letter, concisely, because the panel will probably be scoring you against each of them, so make life easy for them.
Professor Stuart Jenkins, lecturer specialising in experimental benthic ecology on intertidal and shallow sub-littoral habitats:
Trying to give advice to graduates regarding their future careers is challenging. One naturally draws on one’s own experience, and I’d like to say that from my days as an undergraduate to my current position as Professor of Marine Ecology I had a clear vision of where I was going and acted accordingly. Actually, on graduating I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had a degree and I enjoyed being at University. I enjoyed ecology and thought that some form of job in ecology would be cool but didn’t know what that would or could be. I was drawn to a PhD because the little experience I had of finding out stuff (research) had been positive. So, I applied for a PhD (4 actually) and got one. I then did my PhD in marine ecology and then found myself in the same position. What next? Again, I had no idea. Fortunately, I was in the right place at the right time and through enormous fortune was offered a job as a post-doc on a European research project. At that point a few months into a postdoc, I realised I had the chance of a fantastic career in academia. I just had to grasp that chance. At that point I started to think to think a bit more strategically and basically decided to at least attempt to take the opportunity I’d been given. I worked hard- and it worked!
So what advice can I give? 1) Don’t worry if immediately you are not sure what you want to be when you are a ‘grown up’; 2) When you do realise – work bloody hard to make it happen.
Dr Margot Saher, lecturer focusing in ocean science along orbital and tectonic timescales:
Look for a job abroad. If you’ve done your education in the UK, then this may be the time to try to go elsewhere. Education is important. But developing yourself in other ways is too. Go somewhere you don’t know anyone and where you don’t speak the language (science happens in English anyway, so at work you would have the language required). You develop sides of yourself you may not have suspected were there! And that will serve you well in future jobs and life in general alike.
Dr Sarah Zylinski, lecturer specialising in the interactions between light and animals within the marine environment:
Never feel like you can’t turn away from a career path if it makes you unhappy, no matter what you have invested to be there: There are always other paths waiting to be explored and happiness should be the ultimate destination!
Dr Suzie Jackson, lecturer specialising in estuarine and shelf sea sediment dynamics:
My advice would be – don’t be afraid to try new areas of Marine Science. Marine Science is multi-disciplinary in nature so Marine Scientists should be too.
Specific advice for applying to jobs: When apply for jobs ensure you are selling yourself by referring directly to the essential and desirable categories of the job description in your application.
Professor emeritus Christopher Richardson, former head of the School of Ocean Science, Bangor. Now retired lecturer specialising in the growth, behaviour, physiology and reproduction of marine molluscs:
Believe in your ability, follow your own path, be flexible and take paid or voluntary science job opportunities when they arise in order to gain further experience and to broaden your academic profile to make you competitive in the job market – sometimes a voluntary position materialises into paid employment.
I can’t wait to see where the future takes us all, the science that some of you will contribute to and the conservation. Some of you might not end up in marine science, maybe I myself won’t, but that’s okay. For those that will, it’s time to be kick-ass marine scientists!
Until next time,
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