Qualifications: B.Sc. Botany and Zoology (Bristol)
M.Sc. Marine Botany (Galway, Ireland)
Ph. D. Marine Botany (Galway, Ireland)
My current job
I am a Research Phycologist at the Natural History Museum in London. I work on a variety of research projects involving marine algae (seaweeds). Some of my work involves working on particular groups of seaweeds, especially red algae as well as supervising a PhD student who works on green algae that live inside other seaweeds, known as endophytic algae. I also work on the conservation of marine algae. I am coordinating the identification of Important Plant Areas in the UK that contain rare algae or where diverse algal communities are present, part of an international plant conservation initiative. The Natural History Museum houses huge collections of specimens, including algae, some of which were collected over four hundred years ago I am looking at how we can use these samples today. They provide important ‘base line’ data that we can compare with what is currently happening in the environment, and can also be useful in understanding issues such as global warming. We are also able to look at them using molecular techniques, such as genetic analysis, which were not available at the time they were collected.
The best part of my job is that I am working in an area that I love; I love my subject and I get to combine a lot of my personal interests with my job. I find research rewarding, intellectually stimulating, and you get to meet lots of interesting people. It is, however, very hard work. You have to put in a lot of hours to survive as a research scientist and it can take a long time to become established. I am always busy and the demands of my job are high, but this also means that my life is never dull!
How I got here
As far back as I can remember I have loved nature, particularly flowers, and as a child I used to ask my mother to bring along a book on flowers when we went for a walk! I studied A-levels at school before going to University. At university I enjoyed learning about all the major types of organisms on earth, knowledge I still draw on today, as well as going on field trips over many parts of Britain. After university I did my teacher training and went on to work for the Field Studies Council at some of their field studies centres. It was whilst working at a study centre by the coast that I became interested in marine algae or seaweeds. This led me to complete a masters degree followed by a Ph.D. in marine botany, the study of marine plants and algae. After I finished my Ph.D. I went to the United States and worked as a researcher (Post doc) studying algae living on coral reefs. I returned to England and worked as a University lecturer for 13 years before starting at the Natural History Museum as a researcher.
Follow your interests. It is better to study a subject you love than to study a subject purely because it leads to a profession. To be a research scientist you need more than just an undergraduate degree (BSc), so you will probably need to do further study afterwards. To follow a career in research you have to be determined and because it is a competitive area, you have to learn to accept rejections and not take them personally.