Caroline – National Marine Aquarium

Caroline gets to share her passions of diving and teaching on a daily basis through her work at the National Marine Aquarium. Think  you’ve got what it takes to follow in her footsteps? Then read on…

What attracted you to this job?

Growing up in Devon I’ve never been far from the sea. When I was trying to pick a university course I wanted to study something I was interested in and enjoyed. I liked surfing at the time and I enjoyed my science lessons so…..Marine Biology.

What does your typical day involve?

I work at the National Marine Aquarium in the education department. My first task is to find out which schools are coming in and what areas we need to think about for teaching. I then get the rooms ready and make sure our prop bags are full of interesting stuff! I usually carry shark teeth and skin, shells and a dried out seahorse around with me to name but a few! After working with the schools, if our biologist team are busy I sometimes help with the dive team. As a qualified SCUBA diver we jump into the tanks to make sure the windows are clean and the animals are well and those that hide in the rocks get some food. Other jobs will be thinking about activities for the weekends and holiday times and working on new education shows and games.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

I love taking groups to the sharks and turtle and seeing their enthusiasm and amazement, but I also find that engaging them with smaller animals like the hermit crabs or the sea cucumbers is just as good.

What do your friends and family think about your job?

My friends and family think I have the perfect job for me, and I have to agree. I think I can go on a bit too much about sea creatures at home but at work it never gets boring as I am paid to talk about the fish! And all my colleagues are the same.

Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance

I work Monday to Friday 9am-5pm. After that my time is my own. I do take the dog to the beach and like to go SCUBA diving, but that’s not like work. It’s what I enjoy doing.

How did you get to where you are today? (i.e. qualifications and career route)

I studied a BSc in Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology at Plymouth University and gained my recreational and commercial diving qualifications. I then got an unpaid internship in the Florida Keys, working in a coral culture lab for Mote Marine Labs. I loved doing this but I needed to come back to the UK and earn some money. I then worked for 3D Outdoor Education and Adventure, taking school children to do field studies and driving a rescue boat for the water sports team. After 18 months I applied for a job as the education assistant at the National Marine Aquarium. Since then I have worked my way up to be the team leader. I have managed to do my PGCE (teaching qualification) part time whilst working and I am currently doing my MSc in Learning for Sustainability at Plymouth University.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following your path?

Enthusiasm and passion have got me a long way. Never expect to earn millions as a marine biologist, but volunteering and showing interest in other scientist’s research could get you a long way.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field, and how much can this be expected to rise?

I started on £12,000 a year as the Learning Team Assistant. Once I had my teaching qualification and I was managing a team I was given a better salary and I now earn £21,000, the same as a newly qualified teacher. The National Marine Aquarium is a charity so wages tend to be lower.

What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

I love taking the dog for long walks and exploring the local country side. Obviously SCUBA diving and I enjoy visiting local beaches.

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

My most embarrassing moment was when I was diving in the coral seas tank at the aquarium and feeding some of the shy animals like the Epaulette shark (Hemiscyllium ocellatum) that hide under the reef rocks. I was paying so much attention to what I was doing that I hadn’t noticed one of the residents in the tank paying me lots of attention. Suddenly I felt something hit my face and bite me. As I knocked it off me with my arms I realised it was our Port Jackson shark (Heterodontus portusjacksoni). It immediately swam away when he realised I tasted bad, but I have to admit I was quite shocked!