This week we chat to Franki, who is currently undertaking a PhD on the impact of rapid climate change on Antarctic krill and the Southern Ocean ecosystems at the University of Southampton, in conjunction with Plymouth Marine Laboratory and British Antarctic Survey. Franki discusses the difficulties in being accepted for a PhD and offers advice for students starting post-graduate degrees.
Name: Franki Perry
Job Title: PhD Student
What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
I made the decision to pursue a career in marine biology relatively late. It wasn’t a childhood dream. I knew I was good at biology and spent a lot of time around the marine environment. The idea slowly grew until it was time to apply to universities during my A-levels, at which point I decided to apply to study it full time.
I took a degree in Marine Biology, and got relevant work experience. I found that having a working knowledge of the marine environment was beneficial. For me being able to work near, on and in the water was important. So I got the relevant qualifications; learnt to drive boats, dive, use radios etc. I’ve always been enamoured with polar marine environments. This is a relatively niche area of research, but I have found it’s always important to network. Introduce yourself to the right people, show willingness to get involved in new projects and organisations, and work hard. People will then remember you and will contact you when they need an extra pair of hands.
How did you land your current job/position?
I contacted the PhD supervisor about the project and we met up to talk about it before I even applied for it. This helped me decide if the project was right for me. I decided I really wanted the project and put a lot of effort into the application. I knew other people who had been through similar interview processes and so asked them how to revise and get ready for the interview.
Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Getting to go to Antarctica, and knowing that the results that I’m producing from my research have never been seen by any other human, ever.
Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
I know that the papers that I publish during my PhD will contribute to our knowledge the unique Southern Ocean marine ecosystem. Consequently we can make better informed management decisions in regards to the ecosystem and the krill fishery that operates there.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
That lots of people get undergraduate degrees in Marine Biology and never work in marine science. To be successful you have to get a lot of relevant work experience, and you will probably have to work for free for a bit. You will most likely have to get further degrees (Masters, PhD), and even then you can still not make it.
You should always remember that marine biology is not all about charismatic megafauna and Jacques Cousteau. You have to be interested in everything from oceanographic process, ocean chemistry, satellite imaging, statistics, marine biology, laboratory work, fieldwork, and writing.
Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
You will spend a lot of time looking at excel sheets and coding, something at school I didn’t particularly enjoy. At the outset this may seem mundane but you have to bear with it. Numbers and facts are the only way to persuade governments and policy makers that your research is worth funding and that they should introduce legislation to protect marine environments.
What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Decide if you really want it. If you do go for it. Hassel the right people, learn to dive, get time on boats, take science and maths at A-level, and keep going don’t give up. It’s worth it.
What is your favourite marine creature and why?
Probably any colonial ascidian, they each have their own mouth but they share a bum!
What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Sailing to Antarctica to carry out research with the British Antarctic Survey.
Thank you Franki, for an amazing insight into the PhD route. Starting a PhD is a big undertaking and takes a lot of time, patience and passion for your subject. Do you think you have what it takes? Are you interested in pursuing a PhD? Then check out our current PhD opportunities page here.
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