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An interview with Georgie & Jess and their pathway into marine biology


As a high school student did you know you wanted to go into marine biology?

Georgie: No, I didn’t - throughout high school I did enjoy science, but in Year 12 I also did well in English, History and Indonesian. This led me to begin a Bachelor of Arts/International Studies with the plan that I would try to get into journalism. When I discovered that I did not enjoy this as much at a university level, I transferred to a Bachelor of Science after a year, and then a major in Marine Biology a year later. I have always loved being at the beach and learning about the environment and all things nature, and my brain seemed to work better in the realm of sciences rather than arts.

Jess: Yes, I have always had a huge love and passion for the ocean and ocean animals. It started with the typical large cetaceans (dolphins and whales) that everyone loves, then my interests grew to all other aspects of the ocean. This is everything from plants, marine algae (seaweed) and all other animals big or small!

Did you have to do any volunteer work or extracurricular activities? How did you begin to start your career in marine biology?

Georgie: I actually got my current job at the Marine Discovery Centre through volunteering here. After I finished my university studies I wanted to gain more local knowledge of our marine environment, and began volunteering at the centre once a week, helping out with school excursions as well as aquarium maintenance and fish feeding. I volunteered for 2.5 years, and when a position became available, I was offered a paid role here as a resident marine scientist. Throughout the years I have also volunteered with the Adelaide Dolphin Sanctuary Action Group, participated in some dune plantings and restoration, and also completed some workshops and courses including Coastal Ambassadors and Climate Ready Communities. I found all of these experiences to be helpful to compliment my formal education and learn how people and communities can make a difference to help our marine environment.

Jess: Volunteer work was not compulsory within any of my marine studies, although I did complete some small volunteering work with beach clean-up groups and then underwent an internship at the Marine Discovery Centre, where I continued to volunteer once my internship was completed. These experiences were the most beneficial activities I undertook throughout my degree as they provided me with a wealth of extra knowledge as well as providing me experience in the workplace with hands on activities. 


What did you do during university when studying marine science?

Georgie: I completed a Bachelor of Science (Marine Biology) at the University of Adelaide, with an additional Honours project. I liked how the course began with the basics of biology and environmental sciences, with courses in Zoology, Botany, Ecology and Geology. The third year then took what we had learnt and applied it to Marine Sciences. There were various field days and camps which were really great opportunities to see and experience some of these ecological concepts in nature. My honours project also involved a lot of field work taking part in surveys of juvenile fish populations in a variety of coastal habitats around South Australia such as mangrove creeks, mudflats, seagrass meadows and saltmarshes. Throughout my third year and during Honours we did a lot of project creation, experiment proposals and utilising statistics to support our findings. I was also able to gain some extra experience by volunteering my time in laboratory work for PhD students, usually some microscope work and identification of marine invertebrates.

Jess: During university there was some practical experiences out in the field as well as in the lab which I found beneficial to apply my knowledge of marine science.

I also had a part time job in retail while I completed my studies, proving the importance of time management and planning my workload ahead.


Was it hard to find a job in field or with your degree?

Georgie: After completing my studies, I did find that there wasn’t a lot of work advertised that I felt I could apply for. A lot of the roles advertised were senior roles or for people with more experience in the workplace. It was for this reason that I started looking for volunteering opportunities, to try and gain some more practical experience. I was lucky then to gain a paid position after 2.5 years. Other volunteers at the centre have gone on to gain employment in aquariums or eco-tourism in WA and Queensland. It can also be helpful to form connections with a network of people working or volunteering in environmental sciences where you live, to start to get your name out there and build a foundation of contacts you can call on for advice, work experience or job opportunities.

Jess: I was very fortunate to be successful in my application for the Marine Discovery Centre as the first marine science job I applied for. Although in this field I believe it is all about networking and having experience, subsequently having volunteer and internship experience is very beneficial!


What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue marine biology?

Georgie: I would tell them to follow their passions – if you have an interest in a particular animal, habitat, or other area, then it can be helpful to hone your expertise. If your university offers an internship program as a part of your studies, then try and take part in these. Try and get out in nature, either the beach, coastal habitats or underwater, and just observe what you see. Take the time to stop and watch or listen to see what is happening in the environment around you, and how this might play a role in the larger ecosystem. By being curious and inquisitive, we can learn so much from the world around us. You can also take other passions and interests and try to integrate these with marine biology – not everyone who studies marine biology will go on to be a “marine scientist” working in the ocean or a lab. You could work in education, community engagement, citizen science groups, tourism or art and still incorporate marine biology into these fields.

Jess: I would say if Marine Biology is something you are passionate about, then absolutely go for it, because it is this passion that will get you places in your future. Take any and every opportunity that comes your way, whether it may be practical experience within your degree, information days, volunteering opportunities, or internships. The best thing you can do is to get your name out into the community, by completing some the previously stated opportunities, this will help put you one step above everyone else.


What would you have done differently to help you with marine biology?

Georgie: There are things I would have liked to have done if the financial barriers weren’t there, such as travelling to more places around South Australia and Australia to explore and experience more marine and coastal environments. I am still on a journey with Marine Biology, as this is my first job in the field, and would like to explore opportunities for different pathways other than environmental education in the future.

Jess: If I could do my degree again, I would have tried to gain more experience in different fields within marine biology, gaining experience with many different companies, organisations to help further my knowledge whilst studying.