Tina – Marine biologist

Tina loves the water and has always wanted to work as a marine biologist ensuring that we conserve our marine environment. If you love working outdoors and have a passion for all things to do with the sea, then read on. This could be your future career!

What attracted you to this job?

I have always loved activities involving water and marine life, but only became determined to have a career in that environment after visiting Sea World in America. At the time I was only ten years old and had no idea what a marine biologist was let alone how to become one.

What attracted me to the job was the potential adventure to be had by working outdoors and especially offshore, studying marine life and ensuring that it was conserved.

I came to CMACS (Centre for Marine & Coastal Studies) from an education in marine ecology and offshore and ocean technology, so I was delighted to find a job that combined both of these two areas in one role.

What does your typical day involve?

One thing that my job definitely has to offer is variety. A typical 8 hour day in the office involving writing baseline environmental reports, sorting marine organisms out of collected intertidal and subtidal survey samples and researching marine life on the internet or in journals; is very different to a typical day offshore, which may require being called upon at any time of day or night to go trawling areas of sea for marine species, taking core samples of sandy and rocky shores or marine mammal observing around offshore windfarm piling vessels.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Along with the variety of tasks, the ability to meet new people and travel all over the country for work, I find it very satisfying knowing that a large proportion of the work that my colleagues and I do is helping the UK to create a whole new offshore renewable energy industry, whilst at the same time ensuring that we conserve our important marine environment. I also love having the opportunity to tell people about the work that my company does and inform them about the importance of having environmental consultants supporting the offshore industry. And I suppose that I should also mention that nothing beats watching harbour porpoise leaping out of the water through the wake of your boat, or gliding quietly past on a glassy sea day on the way back from site.

What do your friends and family think about your job?

With the exception of one of my sisters who suffers greatly from seasickness, my family think that my job is as exciting as I do! When I first told them that I would initially be going out to sea over the summer to watch for seals, dolphins and porpoises, they said, “You call that work?”. I’m thankfully very fortunate that they understand that I have to be flexible with my time for work, and as a result may not be able to make every get together that they plan. I’ve wanted this career for as long as they can remember, so they’re all just so happy for me and have accepted that they will often hear me say, “Sorry I couldn’t answer the phone but I was on a boat”.

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

There are two very different types of work that I do which can alter my work-life balance at CMACS:
1. Based in the office usually over winter months, when weather can restrict offshore activities. I work a comfortable 9 to 5:30 day, meaning that my work-life and home-life are very much the same as any other office based job. After work I go to the gym, see friends, eat out and take annual leave as you would expect.
2. When I am called to go offshore. Depending on the job, I might be based in staff accommodation close to the port where the work is based from, and only go offshore on a day boat for up to 24 hours, or sometimes go out on a larger boat for up to 2 weeks before coming back to shore. During times where I am based in staff accommodation between operations, I am free to spend my time as I like, as long as it is local and I can drop whatever I’m doing to head offshore at any time and sometimes at short notice. On the boat, your free time activities are largely limited to what can be managed on a boat, but I have spent many a relaxing afternoon playing computer games, bird watching and then seeing the sun set into the sea.

How did you get to where you are today?

After getting good grades particularly in double science and maths at GCSE level and A levels in biology, chemistry and english, I studied marine biology and coastal ecology at Plymouth University for my undergraduate. Following that I trained in recreational diving instruction and worked in customer focused occupations for several years before pursuing a Masters in offshore and ocean technology at Cranfield University. One subject that although not essential but would have been beneficial, would have been an A level in maths, as a good understanding of statistical analysis of data is useful for some parts of the job.

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

I would say to anyone wanting to pursue a career in marine biology to primarily do the best that you can and get good grades at high school and beyond. The reason I say this is because this type of work gets a lot of interest and the competition for jobs as a result is very high. When I was looking for a job out of University, I was one of a huge number of people who had graduated with the same qualification and realised that it would really help to have something other than my degree to offer a potential employer. In this case, it is just as useful to have experience in related activities such as bird watching, marine mammal or fish identification and time spent on boats as it is formal education. Experiences such as volunteering at Sealife Centre’s shows enthusiasm for this lifestyle as much as your choice of subjects at school, college or higher. Other than that, I would simply advise that you persist in applying for jobs. At some points in my job search I didn’t know if I would ever really achieve a career in marine biology, and here I am, writing to young people about my brilliant job as a marine biologist.

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?

People do tend to start in this industry with a first degree and sometimes a masters too.

Typical starting salaries are around £17,000p/a and move towards £20,000p/a once some experience is gained and responsibilities increase. After that, development really depends on things like bringing in new work for the company or developing very strong skills in areas such as environmental impact assessment, technical writing or survey work. The industry often keeps salaries relatively low but rewards through bonuses which top up pay levels to reflect both individual effort and company performance. It may not sound that appealing to begin with, but when a fair amount of your time is spent offshore there is little opportunity to spend your wages.

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

When not at work I find going to the gym and yoga classes relaxing as well as useful in building stamina; several hours of standing watching the sea on a rocky boat and you quickly realise that it helps to have good balance and strong legs! My other physical hobbies are snowboarding and diving and my family and I are keen national park visitors, revelling in the long walks and group activities. Along with being pretty active, I crave a bit of time on the games console and have found that reading, photography and knitting are past times that are as easy to enjoy both on and offshore.

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

Fortunately, I have not joined the ranks of many a colleague who have managed to walk their way out of their wellies whilst on an intertidal mud flat survey, or been the first to throw up on a very rocky boat trip. However, I imagine that it won’t be long before I too join those ranks and when I do, I don’t think that I will mind because the fun times that I have had so far and I know are yet to come, will far out-weigh the embarrassment of those and other similar events.