My name is Jennifer Rasal I’m 22 years old, I have a 1st class BSc in Marine Biology from the University of Liverpool and I’m currently studying for an MRes in Marine Biology at the University of Plymouth. I do a lot outside of my course including underwater hockey, knitting socks and of course blogging for the University.
Why did Marine Biology grab your interest as a subject to study?
This is actually a really funny story. I originally wanted to study law, I did work experience at several different solicitors, went to university open days to look at law and even went as far as to write my personal statement for law. Then one day I just woke up and realised that I actually wasn’t interested in law. I felt really lost and unsure about what to do - to suddenly decide you don’t want to study what you’ve been planning on doing for ages is really hard to do, but I’m glad I had the guts to stop it before it went too far. Luckily my parents have always been very supportive and when I told them, they didn’t pressure me to carry on with law, they just asked me what I wanted to do instead. I still remember us sat around chatting about what I could do instead. Accountancy perhaps? I like Maths? Something with business? Then as a joke my dad said that I’d be happy if I could just count fish all day with the amount of times I used to want to go snorkelling when we were on holiday. He meant it as a joke - just a funny comment, nothing more. But I never forgot it. It was like he had just pointed out the most obvious thing in the world. I love fish. I love the sea. When asked where I wanted to go on holiday I only had one requirement, somewhere with a coral reef that I can snorkel over. In England I loved scrambling over rock pools on our coastline. At nursery all my drawings were of mermaids and fish. We made hand puppets in Primary school, I made a dolphin. All through my life there has been this undercurrent of a love for the sea that I honestly never noticed until my dad made that one joke. After that I seriously started to consider it. I Googled Marine Biologist once I got home and the more I read the more I knew this is want I wanted to study.
What does a typical day or week look like for you? What are your main responsibilities while researching?
Wow, a typical day? I’m really not sure. My project is very varied so some days I’ll work in the office from 8:30am until 7pm then the next I can spend two hours on a train travelling to a small fishing town to interview some fishermen on the harbour and of course eat some fish and chips. Then another time I might be up at 4am to get out on the boat and work out at sea collecting some samples. The key thing with research is being prepared to get the work done when you can. Field work and interviewing sets its own agenda, you can’t decide a 3pm ‘oh I think I’ll go out on the water tomorrow’ you have to have that planned in advance so all the office work needs to be fit in around it. Similarly you have to be very flexible you can plan to go to sea but if the day arrives and a storm has started you won’t be going anywhere.
Do you have any advice for others looking to enter this type of course?
A key thing is experience. There is two reasons for this, one as with most professions now you won’t be able to get a job with just a degree (or you will at least really struggle) you need to have a wide range of experience to prove to potential employers that you have the necessary skills. You don’t need to have necessarily done the job before but you can use skills from another area. For example, perhaps you want to join an international research team going to the Arctic and they ask you how you get along with people of different nationalities and cultures. You might not have been on an international research cruise before but you might say have worked as a host at the aquarium and given tours to international guests. You could talk about how you got along really well with the guests and actually found it really interesting to learn about other cultures.
The second key reason for getting experience is to understand yourself better. This course requires you to pick a project and work on it from January to September with nothing else but that. You need to know that you are going to enjoy the work. If you have experience with working at sea, on the shoreline, in data analysis or in lab work you’ll know what you enjoy or more importantly what you don’t enjoy. It is never too soon or too late to start building up experience. I volunteered on a jellyfish project in Norway after just my first year of University and yesterday I gave a presentation about my research at Wembury Marine Station. Start as early as you can and never think that you’ve done enough.
I would also advise people to think carefully about the project they want to do, when it comes to applying for jobs after your research project is going to be your main selling point, so try and create one that will cover lots of different skills and if you know what you want to do as a job (I didn’t when I started) try and gear it towards that area. You’ll find it a lot easier when it comes to filling out job applications.
Finally, I would really advise future students to make the most of all the marine-based opportunities there are in Plymouth. You never know where something will lead or who you will meet through your work, so volunteer as much as you can. Use this time to fill in any gaps on your CV, meet people in the industry and most importantly of all enjoy yourself. You should never go into Marine Biology for the money - there are a lot of industries that pay a lot more for a lot less work. Study Marine Biology because you want to study it, because you are passionate about it. There is a lot of fun to be had but you need to put a lot of work into it as well.
What can we do to make the best of the World’s Oceans on a special day like today?
There is so much you can do on World Oceans Day. There are events going on around the country from beach cleans to science fairs that you can go along to. You can take the day to simply enjoy and appreciate the oceans, head down to the sea for a walk with the dog, or go rock pooling with an identification guide and see what you can find. If you are feeling really energetic why not go for a swim or try out paddle boarding? If you haven’t got much time or have to work, why not challenge yourself to do something beneficial for the oceans and try and go the whole day without using plastic? I’m sure you have heard about how plastic is poisoning our seas right now, could you give it up for World Oceans Day? World Oceans Day is about recognising how important the seas are to us - they give us so much and yet we treat them so badly. We live in Britain’s Ocean City; the sea is a huge part of our lives, so take the time on World’s Oceans Day to truly appreciate it.
What’s the most stand out moment of your university career?
There are so many it is really hard to pick. If I wanted to be sentimental I guess my graduation day. It certainly felt quite surreal to think that ‘yes I’ve done it, I’ve actually graduated’. On the other hand, though I’ve been on many adventures because of university, and all of them could be classed as stand out moments. From the trip to the North of Norway for 5 weeks, to spending a month at sea researching hydrothermal vents in the Azores, or perhaps attending a jellyfish conference in Barcelona? All of these were exciting times that I’ll never forget, but I think a stand out moment, looking back, was one that actually sounds a little dull in comparison but to me really sums up a lot about university. I remember working in a deserted library at 11pm with a group of friends, all of us having struggled to finish this assignment for weeks. We were tired and stressed out and time was ticking on but we were in it together and that made it bearable. In the end for some reason we ended up doing forward rolls down the aisles between computers whilst laughing hysterically - I think we might have cracked by that point!
What are your plans for the future?
I know that I love marine biology and love the sea so much that I can’t leave it now. I’ll always work in conjunction with the sea somehow, in what area or specific job I don’t know yet, but so much can change in a couple of years that I don’t think forming a set plan is really a good idea. There are many different areas I can go into, with new industries opening up all the time. I think it’s important to be open minded and try new things - so I’ll go along with what comes along and just see where it takes me.
I might not have always known I wanted to be a marine biologist but I know I want to stay being one. I’ve loved studying marine biology and I wouldn’t go back and change my choice for anything. It’s opened up so many adventures for me and I’ve met some amazing people. I know that not everyone is as passionate about the sea as I am but for the World’s Oceans Day just take a few moments to explore the marine world. It really is an incredible and wonderful thing and it is right on our doorstep.