Case study

Marine ecologist — Rosie Clewett

Rosie reflects on her ability to protect nature through a combination of field work and computer technology in her role as a marine ecologist

How did you get your job as a marine ecologist?

I currently work as a marine ecologist on the marine monitoring team at the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), a public body that advises the government on nature conservation. In this role, I collect evidence on the health of the marine environment to help enact change at policy level and thereby benefit and protect the biodiversity of the sea.

To get this job, I studied biological sciences at undergraduate level at the University of Liverpool and then went on to complete an MRes Biodiversity, Evolution & Conservation at University College London (UCL).

I started out with a broader interest in ecology, but during my Masters degree, conducted two separate marine-based research projects, which opened out my interests. One project topic was the pressures of human populations on coral reefs in Fiji and the other, investigating the factors involved in recovering marine vertebrate species in Europe.

These projects developed my knowledge of marine conservation and research techniques, which are a key part of my role at JNCC. I found my job on the Civil Service job search.

How relevant is your degree to your marine ecology role?

I didn't specialise in marine biology at degree level. Doing a broad biological sciences degree allowed me to establish an understanding of many interesting disciplines, from bio-veterinary medicine to zoology. I organically found myself in the marine world by continuing to choose projects that made me curious. 

My degree also taught me many of the skills I use in my job, such as scientific writing, statistical analysis and knowledge of the ecology of the marine ecosystem.

What are your main work activities?

When I'm working from home, tasks can include creating maps of the marine protected areas (MPAs) we are monitoring, and planning surveys of marine ecosystems.

I also get to conduct surveys and do hands-on research myself. When doing surveys on-board a research vessel, I work a 12-hour shift schedule collecting samples or using a camera to collect images of the seafloor to map out habitats, and making sure all the data is recorded and backed up safely.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I most enjoy seeing first-hand the habitats and animals we are working to protect. Sometimes it can feel very distant when you're sitting at home answering emails, but when we put a camera down from a boat onto the seafloor in the UK, we've seen sharks, rays, king crabs, beautiful shoals of fish and really cute cuttlefish.

What are the most challenging parts of your role?

The biggest challenge is working with the enormous government system . Though incredibly powerful, things can take time to happen, and many things are not within your control. This can be frustrating, but the potential for positive change is huge and worth waiting for.

Do you need a Masters degree for this role?

While a Masters degree might not be necessary, it can give you a competitive advantage by allowing you to specialise in a way that you often can't at undergraduate level.

If you're interested in working in research, whether in industry or academia, a research-based Masters (MRes or Mphil) is a great way to gain those skills. Otherwise, you'll need to build significant experience in a relevant area through other courses or work experience.

What other experience helped you secure this role?

Having work experience before applying definitely helped. I had been working in environmental community engagement at a small charity for almost two years. Although I was working with children and volunteers to run monitoring projects of the River Lea and its wildlife, it was remarkably similar to some of the marine monitoring and reporting work I now do at JNCC.

Gaining work experience in a small, friendly workplace also gave me the confidence I needed to apply and succeed in a professional environment.

What advice can you give to others wanting to get into marine science?

I would first have a look at advertised jobs to identify the experience and skill requirements they list, as this will help you work out what you're interested in.

You can gain experience through volunteering or completing a research project. There needs to be something on your CV that proves your experience and commitment to this type of work.

For my job involving research and surveys, anyone applying with strong geographical information system (GIS) or statistical skills (e.g. using the programme 'R') has a distinct advantage. There are places online where you can learn these skills for free, and software for R and QGIS is open-source and free to download.

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