Things I wish I’d known as an undergraduate

By Amy Wright (arwrig@essex.ac.uk)

Studying and working in the field of marine biology is fascinating and immensely rewarding. However, this also means that it is highly competitive, and finding work can seem an insurmountable task for the recent graduate or aspiring marine biologist. I am about to finish my Masters in Tropical Marine Biology and have been lucky enough to have worked and volunteered in several roles related to marine science. I would like to share a few things I wish I had been told when I was first dipping my toes into marine biology.

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Amy presenting her research at the MBA Postgraduate Conference at Queen’s University Belfast in May 2015.

 

1. Volunteering doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg

Many employers value relevant work experience above qualifications and volunteering is a great way to get it. Not everyone has the money to spend three months volunteering in Fiji or Thailand, but many relevant volunteering opportunities can be found much closer to home and free of charge. If you are lucky you might even get paid! In 2014 I volunteered with seven different organizations in the UK, from a European eel monitoring project with ZSL to the cetacean themed event WhaleFest in Brighton. In doing so, I have made valuable contacts and the experience has really boosted my CV. I only wish I had started before graduating. If you are on the lookout for volunteer opportunities, www.environmentjob.com is a good place to start

2. Network wherever you can

You have probably been lectured on the values of networking already, but it is worth taking seriously. Again, this is something I wish I had begun as an undergraduate. Marine biological conferences are fantastic places to mingle with established researchers and find out more about different branches of marine biology – many conferences also have dedicated workshops and activities for students. Be brave and seek out chances to meet people and network; these are likely to be the people reading your future job applications, and marine biologists are generally friendly bunch! Conferences are also great places to share your research, meet potential future collaborators and swap ideas for projects.

3. Don’t specialize too early

Your passion may be for marine mammals or even extremophilic microbes, but it is a good idea to keep your interests broad while you can. If you choose to enter academia as a career, your research interests will inevitably narrow. For this reason, using your undergraduate degree and free time to learn about fields of marine biology you might not have come across before is a good idea. Versatility is also desirable when job-hunting. I hope these tips will prove useful. The most important thing to remember is to be persistent and remain enthusiastic in your quest to break into marine biology.

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Amy enjoying rockpooling and volunteering at WhaleFest

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