by Dr Siddhi Joshi,
Being a young scientist can be quite tough at the start. Whether you are a dedicated student or early career scientist, often it is easy to find yourself in a bit of a chicken and egg situation: “To get a job you need experience, but to get experience you need a job!” We’ve all been there, and at times the amount of perseverance required can be quite testing. However, with marine environmental issues being increasingly important, lots of opportunities are available out there! In this blog post, I discuss practical examples for students, and how to go about gaining real-world experience for those at various career stages, from undergraduate through to post PhD.
First; the undergraduate project. Procrastination, looming deadlines and establishing a dynamic rapport with your supervisors can be major hurdles for students. However, the undergraduate project is a component present in many science degree programmes, and whilst challenging, it should be treated as a valuable opportunity to flourish. Some undergrad research projects can involve work placements, which while generally unpaid can provide benefits well beyond pay cheque for a week or two. During my undergrad degree, I was a placement student at the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, British Columbia. This initiative was set up by a previous second-year undergraduate at University of Southampton, who, seeking a summer placement before the final year, reached out to the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) in the Canadian Government. Working together on establishing a placement programme, Southampton students had the opportunity to go on structured work-shadowing programme at the oceanographic research laboratory and even go on deep sea oceanographic cruises aboard the Canadian Coastguard research vessels. This was a very enriching experience to learn first-hand from the government scientists and researchers at the forefront of their field, with many inspirational role models providing guidance. The other students and I enjoyed several local wilderness attractions together, including major hikes and sailing excursions. Whilst this was a dream come true opportunity, it is important to acknowledge a lot of work went in to networking, funding and organising this experience.
The world of unpaid internships can be difficult to navigate, financially demanding and hence research institutions are encouraged to work with universities and establish networks for short-term programmes for students. For example, the Marine Institute in Ireland, where many of my colleagues work, have a Bursary Scholarship Programme, where students are hired to work on individual projects working with government scientists in areas ranging from fisheries and aquaculture, marine ecosystems, shellfish safety, data development, oceanography, research funding to communications and HR. This has been found to be a valuable experience not only for the students but also for the employers.