Finding the right career in marine science

Jennifer DoyleIreland's growing blue economy provides a leap forward in generating careers in marine science. However, there are so many different types of jobs in marine science that finding the right niche for studying marine science can be challenging.

The Marine Institute has a wide range of marine scientists and researchers who have jobs in oceanography, marine technology, marine biology and marine chemistry to name a few. For students who might be thinking about a career in science, it is worth remembering that the ocean is vast and there are a range of careers in marine science to choose from.

Meet our Marine Scientists

Jennifer Doyle has been working in marine science at the Marine Institute as a fisheries scientist for 20 years. Her field of expertise is in using Underwater TV technology to survey and assess the status of Nephrops norvegicus stocks of commercial importance to Ireland. "When I left school I was not sure what I wanted to be except that I knew that I liked working outdoors a lot and biology was the main branch of science I was curious in. However, developing and working with technology to study Nephrops wasn't the career path I had in mind when I was 18!"

Love the ocean

Jennifer completed a degree in Biology and Mathematics in NUI Maynooth followed by a postgraduate diploma in Fisheries management in University College Cork. "To really test my love of outdoors and fieldwork I got firsthand experience working at sea. I was lucky to get a place on a trawler out of Castletownbere, which was pivotal to my career as a starting point. Working out at sea was like a new adventure learning to deal with the weather and swells of the ocean. The trip was proof that this type of work suited me. I really enjoyed the experience of working on an unstable platform with folk that I had just met and getting on with the jobs on the vessel."

Following this, Jennifer got her first job as an observer at sea on trawlers in the Irish Sea where she met skippers and crews on many fishing vessels. "The skippers and crew were great and gave me an appreciation for the men and women in the fishing industry and marine biology sector who work hard in variable conditions".

"In my very early days it took me some time to get my sea-legs. One clear memory I have of the perks of the job at sea is when I was quite seasick on one trip and the crew shouted down to me in the cabin – "Wales! Wales!" and I was thinking I know we can see the coast of Wales! but I dragged myself up and out onto deck to see a pod of four killer whales cruising by - a great experience so thanks to the crew of the Northern Dawn for making me get up!"

A sense of exploration, curiosity and discovery

Working at the Marine Institute scientists get to work in the office as well as outdoors. Jennifer spends up to forty days at sea working on the research vessel RV Celtic Voyager. The Underwater TV surveys assessing the status of Nephrops stocks are 10 days long and we work inshore and offshore "so we get to see the coast but also a lot of the big blue."

The TV surveys are carried out in the summer months as good weather is required to operate the TV sledge. A typical day on a TV survey onboard the RV Celtic Voyager involves being on duty watch where the team drive the sledge along the seabed to get high quality video footage and also check all the sensors are working such as the cameras, lights, navigation sensors, lasers and CTD.

"Operations at sea are 24 hours so we have a watch system of four hours with two persons. Then later onboard I review the footage identifying and counting the Nephrops burrows and record the presence of other species and features of the seabed. This is always interesting as you never know what you will come across," Jennifer said.

Back in the office, the TV survey data is analysed using statistical methods and R-code programming. I produce the survey reports, maps and data. This data forms the cornerstone of the catch scenarios for Nephrops stocks and is peer reviewed.

Careers - Who's hiring?

Ireland and the EU are actively promoting the sustainable growth of the marine and maritime sectors. The marine sector is growing in lots of different fields including marine technology and research.

Marine scientists also work in a range of jobs including the fisheries industry, Marine Institute, National Parks and Wildlife Service, and Bord Iascaigh Mhara, as well as many of the universities in education and research. Film, photography and communications are also great skills to have promoting the importance of our ocean, where some great documentaries have been produced in recent years.

In the last fifteen to twenty years, there have been some amazing new discoveries being made about the ocean. Thanks to the development of new technology, the ocean is becoming more accessible for researchers. Underwater TV technology is a relatively new survey method used to assess Nephrops stocks in shallow and deep waters. This technology has many applications for marine science monitoring programmes.

"We can build photo libraries of marine species and TV data is also being used to apply machine learning to develop counting algorithms which will be an area which will take off in the near future" Jennifer explained.

Know your strengths

There are some amazing opportunities nationally and internationally where marine scientists are starting their careers. Depending on the type of marine career you want, you will need certain skills and strengths. Some scientists are happy to develop a career in research, others like to work in labs or the outdoors.

Jennifer has worked with a wide range of scientists over the years and explains there is a niche for everyone. "When starting your career and deciding on your degree, it is important to follow what you love. It is important to be open to opportunities and particularly meeting new people. A marine job can take you anywhere in the world. As part of developing my career in marine science, I have been on surveys in Icelandic waters, North Sea, west coast of Scotland and Bay of Biscay. This is an exciting opportunity to be involved in surveys conducted by other national laboratories, as we can exchange protocols and methods and develop skills and survey technology and of course see the world"

For a degree in marine science the third level institute's such as NUI Galway, University College Cork and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology offer very good degrees. You may also consider other universities or colleges if you want to first develop your skills in other areas such as social sciences, economics, technology, maths, and communications, which can all be used in developing a career in the marine industries.

For those who want to go straight into the industry, there are jobs, internships and even volunteer opportunities available. Government bodies such as the Marine Institute offer 8-12 week bursary programmes. Bord Iascaigh Mhara also have graduate placements from time to time, and third-level education institutions have opportunities for graduates and researchers.