How work-ready are you? Potential employers look at, besides your degree, your job-specific skills. The marine employment market is very competitive. To gain an advantage in this field, you will need to have clear employability traits, to show off to perspective employers, which can set you ahead of your peers.
How work-ready are you?
Potential employers look at, besides your degree, your job-specific skills. The marine employment market is very competitive. To gain an advantage in this field, you will need to have clear employability traits, to show off to perspective employers, which can set you ahead of your peers. Universities focus on classroom teaching of theory; but there is usually very little training in both practical research applications and technical aspects (e.g. how to skipper a boat).
A field experience program gives you the opportunity to not only develop your skill sets to make you more employable, but also helps you contextualize what a career in marine research will look like down the road. Furthermore, it can be an opportunity to see and network with individuals in your chosen career path whom you will be working for or with, in the future.
So now you would like to pick a marine program/internship, but how do you choose the one that best fits your needs?
There are so many options out there. It is important to pick a program that will help you enhance your experience, making you more employable.
Here are 5 important steps:
1. What interests you? First off, think about your studies… What really motivated you the most in choosing this career? Where do your interests lie? Marine research is about doing something you love, jumping out of bed in the morning, looking forward to going out in the field. Ask yourself:
- Am I interested mostly in oceanography or broad marine ecology?
- A specific species or group of species?
- Do I want to experience more practical field research? Collecting and managing data? Or contributing to research publications?
- Am I also interested in community outreach and environmental education?
- Do I want to work aboard research vessels?
- Does using different scientific equipment interest me? Maybe you are more of a tech geek, and like the idea of working with emerging technologies in science.
If you are at a point where you are not sure what path you want to take for your career, try to find a program that offers an all-round experience, combining different aspects, so you can take a career decision, after the internship. That is also perfectly normal and choosing after experiencing something is actually best, particularly if you are ready to start applying for employment after your trip. The vaster your skill base is, the better it is for potential employers, especially if those skills were obtained by experience, in practice.
“Yes but where, and what organisation?” is usually the next question. You can narrow it further down by asking yourself the following:
2. Which organisation can reliably offer opportunities to focus on that topic/species I am interested in? Here are few tips to help in separating real research-based internships from ecotourism programs with some research claims.
- Are there enough field expeditions with hands-on training?
- Is the organisation credible, with recent research publications? Specifically on topics/species you would like to work on/with?
- Does the research organisation collaborate with universities in that country or overseas? Or are they officially recognized by any government or university?
- Will you be working with qualified and experienced staff? In this case, remember, sometimes a degree doesn’t say much about a field experience. Sometimes, like with fishing, the best way to learn how to fish is to go with an angler and not with a fishery researcher.
- Does the Head of the research organisation have, at least, a PhD and thus able to guide you through your next career decisions? Or at least an extensive published background in marine research?
- Can the experience give credit towards your university degree? Have there been previous students who gained uni credits? Ask for their contact details.
- Will you have an opportunity to analyse some data you have collected, or even historic data, enough for your possible research thesis?
Now that you have hopefully narrowed your options down to a few organisations, what is next?
3. Am I eligible for this program? Check whether there is an entry level requirement. Not having a minimum requirement does not necessarily equate to a lesser quality of experience. In reality, requirements usually relate more to the audience the program is targeting. If you are studying Marine Biology or even a broader degree (zoology or ecology for instance), don’t be surprised if there was no eligibility criteria.
4. Can you afford it? Research internships are usually not cheap, as typically do carry costs such as running boats, paying qualified staff and researchers etc., to provide a quality experience. Marine research requires expensive equipment, and trained qualified staff are a necessary expense. There are many costs behind an internship and whilst you could score in saving money in some cases, you might get less experience in terms of using cheap equipment or boats, interact with less experienced staff, having a less-enriching experience with scientific equipment.
5. Last but not least: does the organisation provide you with all the information needed? Check out all the information available about the possible organisations and programs. Look at their websites, social media pages, Facebook groups, reviews, videos etc. Here are few important points:
- Is there a specific list of the projects you will get involved in? Or are they just saying “you will do research on sharks”?
- Is the program’s structure clearly laid out?
- Is there enough information about where you will be staying? The accommodation setup?
- What is included and what is not included in the program cost? Are travel and medical insurances included? Food? Laundry? Etc…
- Time off: it is unlikely you will be working on projects all day, every day. So is there anything to do on your off days? There is more to the adventure than just the projects you will get involved in, so make sure you also check out the overall experience.
- What is their cancellation policy?
Make sure to contact the organisation and ask any questions you feel you need further help with. You want to pick an organisation where the communication is good, and they happily answer all your questions, leaving you more confident with your decision. You can easily judge the organisation by the clarity of their answers.
Our last piece of advice…
Just remember, you will get out of the experience what you put into it. So look at it as an adventure, but also a stepping stone in your career. Work hard on the projects, take part in everything available to you that interests you, mingle with everyone, learn from everyone, but ultimately have fun, gain some life skills and…. be ready for a life-changing experience!