This week we chat to…Jen Brand from the Institute of Marine Research in the Philippines. For Jen it was very useful to get a number of qualifications under her belt as well as lots of experience in different areas. Jen points out that there are lots of different facets to marine conservation, from finance to marketing, so even if you are not focussed on science there will often still be a way for you to contribute!
Name: Jen Brand
Job Title: Head of Science
Organisation: Institute for Marine Research
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
I have always loved the ocean, which comes from snorkelling on family holidays from a very young age, thanks to my parents who also love the ocean. I wanted to be a marine biologist before I really understood what that meant. As I progressed through school my interest in science grew strongly, alongside a deeper understanding of what a marine biologist actually did and I knew it was the career path for me. Although I was interested in so many facets and different disciplines of marine science during my university years, a career in research-based conservation was always my goal, stemming from a combination of my passion for science, love for the ocean, and awareness of the multiple and immense threats it faces.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
For me, it boils down to qualifications and experience. My undergraduate and masters were without doubt the biggest steps I took to becoming a marine scientist, followed by gaining experience in various contexts, such as in the field, in labs, as an educator etc.
Looking forwards, at some point I hope to do a PhD, and I hope to continue working in the realm of research-based conservation.
- How did you land your current job/position?
I applied! I had previously done the Research Fellow programme at the Institute, so when I found out they were hiring I had the advantage of already knowing a lot about their research and training programmes. In essence, it comes down to having the required skills and experience, plus a little something extra that sets you apart from other candidates, such as other qualifications that may be useful to the team, or different experiences that you can bring to the table.
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
It’s hard to narrow down to just one part… I really love digging into the data to further our understanding of the complexity of our reef systems, and producing technical documents that reflect our findings. But I also really enjoy training our research assistants, mentoring our research fellows and assisting/supervising students who are completing their Masters research projects with us.
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
Definitely! Our institute works on research-based conservation; we are continuously monitoring the health of our fringing reef system and working closely with local governments to advise on and implement management strategies to maintain and improve the health of the reef. We also engage with our local communities, organise clean ups and share our love for the ocean and conservation as often as we can. As Head of Science, I manage our data and research outputs, essential to our research-based conservation, as well as train our incoming students, who also then spread the word of ocean conservation!
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
If you want it, you’ll get there! Perseverance is essential. Marine conservation is a hugely competitive field, and with relatively few paid opportunities it can feel disheartening sometimes. Put yourself out there, it is a fairly small world so someone you know may know someone who has a vacancy. If you don’t feel like you are getting much traction in your search, invest in yourself – a dive qualification, an online course, experience through volunteering. This will only boost your skillset and potential opportunities in the future.
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
Not really. I think my time at university, coupled with volunteering at various NGOs, gave me a good understanding (and development) of the skills I needed in my career. Soft skills should never be underestimated. Statistics aren’t everyone’s favourite, but if you want a career in research and conservation, you will need it.
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
There are so many ways to be a marine conservationist, and it takes so many different people and skills to build an effective marine conservation project. Look at your interests and skills and see where you may fit in a team best – yes, there are possibly more opportunities if you have a relevant degree, are a dive instructor, or both. However, if you are someone with a background in finance, boat maintenance, education or marketing (to name the first few that come to mind), your skills will likely be useful somewhere – you just have to do a little digging to find the project or team that suits your skills. And if you can’t find any inspiration there, maybe take a course to build your skills. It also helped me to look at the required qualifications/experience for the kind of jobs I wanted, and build my skill set accordingly.
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
My answer to this changes almost daily, there’s too many fantastic creatures out there. But today it’s the Peacock Mantis Shrimp… They have trinocular eyeballs that can see more colours than we can even imagine, they can punch with the force of a .22 calibre bullet (creating light and heat in the process), and they are older than dinosaurs! I’m lucky enough to be able to see them at many of our dive sites here, I love just staying still and watching them slowly come out of their burrows.
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Diving Wolf Rock in Australia (I highly recommend!) during the humpback migration season – surrounded by grey nurse sharks and a few manta rays, with the loud soundtrack of humpback songs from a mother and calf in the distance. It still gives me goosebumps when I think about it.
Thank you Jen, check out the amazing opportunities from the Institute of Marine Research here!