Two years ago, I wrote an article with a little post-graduation advice for my fellow graduates, filled with wise words from my lecturers at the School of Ocean Science, Bangor University. The post was read over 2000 times within 3 days of publication, and my mind was blown with the positive feedback I received from you all.
I finished my undergraduate with a head filled of ambition, a strong motivation to do good for the natural world and a positive drive. Since then, I’ve gone on to complete a research Masters in Marine Biology, focusing on a kelp species range population structure in the UK. During my masters, imposter syndrome hit me hard. For those of you who may not have come across the term before, imposter syndrome is where (as described by dictionary.com) ‘anxiety or self-doubt that results from persistently undervaluing one’s competence and active role in achieving success, while falsely attributing one’s accomplishments to luck or other external forces’.
I started to doubt all my hard work, feeling like the high grades I achieved at undergrad and the competitively sought internship I was awarded, were just a fluke and that I didn’t deserve them. I even doubted my ability to write and communicate science, getting to a point where I couldn’t finish an article for my blog because I felt my writing just wasn’t good enough. I doubted myself a lot during my masters, fearing that I wasn’t doing well enough, or that people didn’t like me, I let it spiral in my head for too long- but imposter syndrome does that.
My masters year flew by and graduation was back around before I knew it. I was very lucky to get the opportunity to complete a research masters at a place like the Marine Biological Association, learn so many new skills and meet so many wonderful people.
What people don’t tell you is how hard the post-university blues hit you. How you’ve gone from having your entire world, your housing, social life, all focused around one thing, and then boom, one day you’re just done. You tend to have a lot of optimism when you finish, that you’ll find your dream job working to save the ocean and all will be well with the world- wishful thinking for sure. However, the job industry is incredibly competitive. The marine science job market has always been difficult, but with the effects of Covid19 and job losses, it has become more competitive than ever.
I’ve applied for countless jobs in the last 12 months, one notable instance being a dream 6 month internship that would have allowed me to develop so many new skills. I wanted it badly, but so did 328 other applicants, and 120 of the applications were sent in the final 3 hours before closing. Although I made the top 25 applicants, I didn’t make it to interview and it felt like a huge personal failure.
Rejection is hard, surviving a global pandemic is hard. So if you’re feeling lost with your future career prospects, here are a few tips that I’m currently following in my attempts to find my first marine science job:
- Keep yourself proactive! Something is better than nothing, and it’s better to keep yourself busy and do an ‘irrelevant’ job than to have a huge gap on your CV (however, easier said than done, with the current job market). A job that you may think of as ‘irrelevant’ will still help you build useful transferable skills.
- Online courses are always great, to keep your mind active and help you to develop new skills. I personally like edx, openlearn and coursera, but there are so many online learning platforms out there! Good skills to learn if you’re in marine biology are how to use computer software like R and GIS.
- Keep up to date with science. With the loss of your university email, you’ve probably lost access to scientific journals too making it all but impossible to keep up to date with science, or maybe you just don’t have the time for scientific papers anymore. But, fear not! There are a number of places where you can keep up-to-date with emerging science in a quick and easy way to read, thanks to the power of science communication. My personal favourite places to keep up to date are Hakai Magazine, Eco Magazine, Monga Bay, The Guardian and The Conversation.
- Networking, making connections and Sci comm! In a digital world it has never been easier. LinkedIn is a really good platform for helping to build your network and is a very useful tool for finding opportunities. I also find Twitter to be a really useful platform to actively engage in science, keep up to date with the latest research and to find opportunities. Research gate can also be a great way to connect with researchers in your field and some open access papers can also be found on here.
- Prioritise your mental health, rejection can be hard but do not take it personally. You have to remember to be compassionate and kind to yourself. Job search depression is a hard thing to cope with, and you are more than just the career you desire. Remember to make time for the hobbies you enjoy, the people you love and even just time to relax and switch off from the world for a while.
My final tip is not to give up. No matter how hard everything seems, or how hopeless it may feel right now. You managed your degree when it probably felt like the hardest thing in the world. It might seem like your friends are walking into their dream jobs while you’re left on the side lines, but your time will come. As my mum says to me when I’m having one of my moments about never finding a job in the marine industry- ‘There’s a job out there for everyone, you just have to keep persevering’.
One message that really stood out for me from my graduate advice post was from Professor Andy Davies:
‘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.’
Myself and my blog are back after a longer than planned hiatus, and I’m feeling more determined than ever to make science accessible to anyone and everyone. If you have any more tips to share, or just fancy connecting to someone else who is also struggling to find their place in the marine world, then my inbox is always open.