This week we chat to…Nico Fassbender, Marine Science Officer with GVI, Seychelles. Having graduated fairly recently, Nico has some relevant and current advice for graduating marine conservationists. His own expedition experience helped him land his job with GVI and following his own advice of taking every opportunity that comes your way he has now landed an exciting new opportunity (see our update at the end of the interview)!
Name: Nico Fassbender
Job Title: Marine Science Officer
Organisation: GVI, (Seychelles)
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
When I was younger, I used to spend loads of time at my grandparents and my grandpa was the one that fuelled my passion for the marine environment. He used to show me books of coral reefs and sharks from all around the world and told me stories of his diving adventures. When I was older, I did my PADI OW course with my dad and soon after when I was old enough my AOW. Getting to experience the beautiful underwater world first-hand was something that changed my life forever and made me pursue the marine conservation path.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
I graduated last summer with a Masters in Marine Biology and Zoology and now I am trying to gain as much work experience and see as many different aspects of marine science as I can. My 5-year plan is to do a PhD and hopefully work as a lecturer one day, but I just want to experience the field a little bit more before I commit to one specific research area.
- How did you land your current job/position?
I volunteered with GVI between school and University and I think being an alumni was a big thing when I was being hired. I knew how the company worked, what they stand for and what it’s like on the program, so it was easy for me to get back into the swing of things. I did send out applications to everywhere from the Antarctic to the Caribbean and, in the end, had the choice between returning to the Seychelles or working in Madagascar or in Palau.
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Exploring new sites and seeing different things on every dive. You never know what you come across, even after diving certain dive sites dozens of times there are still mysteries to uncover and new animals to see! You never know when a whaleshark swims past or you might sit on the boat and a manta ray just cruises along feeding just under the surface.
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
Our big conferences and symposiums always have a big impact on me. Joining forces with other scientists from around the island and exchanging what we found and how our projects are progressing is always amazing.
The data that GVI collected of the Cap Ternay and Port Launay marine parks also actively helped to stop plans to convert the bay into a massive resort with a marina in the bay and dredging of the reef and bay. Whilst I wasn’t here at the time the plans were being proposed, knowing the data I gathered as a volunteer was used to stop this plan is something that makes me extremely proud.
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
Landing a “dream job” (for me it’s working in the field and diving every day) is extremely competitive and hard to get. The top thing I learnt was to never give up; our job market is not an easy one, but you must keep trying and keep sending out applications. On that note, get them in early. When everyone is graduating in June start sending them out in January, you’ll automatically land on the top of the pile and not become one of hundreds when peak application season hits. The earlier the better, just state you are graduating in x months and are looking to gain experience in a graduate job!
Work experience in terms of internships or volunteer work seems to help a lot as well (use your Uni summers for it if you can!). Also, a very good degree with a masters if you can invest the time (do it after your undergrad or as a 4 year integrated course if studying in the U.K. – you are in the swing of things especially with data analysis etc. and may as well combine the two!)
Lastly, apply for anything! I did send out applications to everywhere; from the British Antarctic survey to reef rehabilitation in Palau and marine park ranger jobs in the Caribbean. People often don’t reply but just enquire about an update of your application and keep sending out more. It’s better to turn 3 jobs down than relying on one application you have a “good feeling about” and then getting turned down in the last stages of the application. With this in mind, once you land your job send out applications every now and then to more advanced positions and see what they are looking for. If you get turned down, ask them what skills or work experience you are missing and try and acquire them down the line.
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
Not really – what baffled me though was the fact that you can only really land a job in the Maldives with a masters, years of work experience and at least being a scuba instructor, which made me think. Do you work as a marine biologist or as an instructor to help with courses in the dive centre? I think you must make sure you know what you want when you work in the diving sector, use it for science or use it for training. Don’t get caught up down the wrong lane.
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Learn as much as you can and make as many connections as possible. In Uni, speak to your lecturers, course mates, PhD and Masters students to get an idea of what it’s like to progress further in your career and get tips from them.
If you are working, keep making friends, go to conventions, get involved with everything and anything and soak it all up like a sponge. The more you learn and the more you know the easier it will be to start a different job further down the line!
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
Whale shark! – I was lucky enough to join a whale shark snorkel lead by the MCSS when I volunteered here in the Seychelles and got to see 8 of them in one day which was an unreal experience and something that I will never forget as long as I live.
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
A few weeks ago, I had the incredible opportunity to join the Nekton’s First Descent Mission. Nekton partnered with Oxford University, the Seychelles and researchers from all over the world to investigate the depths of the Indian ocean around the Seychelles’ outer islands, something that had never been done before as no one has seen the Indian ocean below scuba diving depths!
Long story short, I found myself on board this massive commercial vessel converted into a research ship and 3 days later I was sat in a submersible, almost 100m below the surface. I got to see areas that nobody has ever seen before, conducting video transects and collecting samples. When we ascended, we were surrounded by a school of sailfish to make the whole experience even more surreal!
Thank you Nico. UPDATE: Since completing this interview Nico has moved on to a new job with Nekton Mission as a Research Assistant – so it is looking likely that won’t have been his last trip in a submarine! We wish you all the best in your new endeavours.
Click here to find out more about GVI’s expeditions.