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Advice to students
edited by Giovanni Bearzi

"How can I become a cetacean researcher?"

"What can I do?"
The way you look online
A career in marine mammal science or marine conservation: useful links
E-mail discussion lists
"How can I become a cetacean researcher?"

My suggestion is to come up with reasonably clear ideas about what you want to do, where and how. Ideally, you should aim to something that feels important, but also feasible based on your skills.

Don’t miss opportunities to gain experience. Try to participate in some field or lab activities, doing work as close to your passions as possible to get practical experience on that particular subject (this may include lab work, field work, writing, photography, statistics, or even management, environmental policy and public awareness). If you 'feel good' doing something, then you may have found your own specialty. Go for it, and try to develop a specific project.

Do not rely exclusively on emails and CVs. Sending an email may be an appropriate first step, but then try to meet the relevant people in person: visit them at their offices, attend marine mammal and marine conservation conferences, visit institutes and NGOs.

Field courses and expeditions proposed by various research organisations can be a way of developing basic skills and finding how you feel working on cetaceans on a boat or at a field station. These courses may offer a chance to talk with researchers and students, and get valuable advice. If possible, try different experiences and research groups before deciding what works best for you. In any case, do not put everything in somebody else's hands: the choice should be yours.

As a general rule, you have better chances of success if you do something based on enthusiasm and passion, and you do not lose sight of your goals along the way.

"What can I do?"

READ as much scientific literature as possible, to know everything about your specialty (and beyond)

GET TO KNOW the key players in person and pay attention to their views

ATTEND marine science and conservation conferences and workshops

VISIT cetacean laboratories, universities, NGO headquarters, museums, libraries, research centres, field stations etc.

PARTICIPATE in field courses and expeditions

SUBSCRIBE to e-mail lists such as marmam and ecs-talk

LEARN from your peers (pay attention to what they do, and ask questions)

BE CREATIVE and develop uncommon skills that can benefit your work and career (and bring extra rewards)

Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

WRITE as much as you can, and develop an appreciation for style, synthesis and lack of typos

COMMIT to what you do, and spend time and effort actually doing it

FOCUS on something meaningful

Any scientist who wants to make important discoveries must study an important problem.
-- Peter Medawar

DO YOUR BEST and don't fall in love with your own work too soon: there may be still something you can do to make it better

"I have done my best." — That is about all the philosophy of living that one needs.
-- Lin-Yutang

The way you look online

You submit an application to be accepted as a student, be recruited as a field assistant, be hired for a job, etc. You add an elegantly-written, error-free cover letter. You attach a stylish and informative CV, carefully prepared to let your skills come through. You list your conference presentations and publications, formatted according to a consistent and standard citation style. Will that be enough?

Perhaps not. Those who receive your application may want to know more about you, and they are likely to google your name to look for additional information that may help them understand who you are. They may search for your Facebook profile and look at your timeline, check who your friends are, browse your posted photos, the groups you joined, or even your music preferences, the books and movies you like. That is when they find that image of you looking slightly drunk, that politically-incorrect statement, that link to a gross or stupid video.

You say: 'but that's my private life! I can do whatever I want!' Yes you can, but by the time that part of you is posted online it also becomes a part of your professional profile—as soon as it is spotted by someone who aims to evaluate you professionally. Anything that you would not want to have included in your CV should probably not be posted online. Unfortunate as it may seem, those things become 'part' of your CV, or at least it's how they may be perceived by those expected to evaluate you as a potential candidate.

Needless to say, individuals will never be defined by the way they appear on the internet, let alone by the way they look (beautiful, ugly, the colour of their skin, the way they dress). The culture you belong to, your religion, spiritual inclinations, sexual preferences and so on, should not matter to your employer (and if they do matter, then it may be a good idea to look for another employer). However, your personality, attitudes and skills are relevant. Be aware that those expected to evaluate you can only come to a decision based on what they see and find, including online. So make sure they find something interesting, which helps you make a good impression.

The way you look online has become increasingly important. Marine biology is a competitive field and to make sure you stand above the crowd you may want to improve your online profile, too. It isn't just about you: in a selection process your data will be compared with whatever is available about others, your competitors. If your competitors look better, one of them will be chosen. A professor or an evaluator cannot be blamed for wanting to know as much as possible about the individuals who asked to join their team.

How can you improve the way you look online? Consider starting a Blog if you don't have one yet, or post your best photos on Flickr. Show yourself 'in action', doing something interesting. Let your skills, your style, your creativity and your passions become apparent. Show your desire to engage and commit to what matters to you. Balance and fine-tune all that as carefully as you can: you don't want to be viewed as someone who just wants to show off. In some cases, you may consider posting a selection of your essays, your music and artwork, anything. Even your CV, no matter how short, may be posted online with the addition of photos and links complementing the text.

You are really marketing yourself here: focus on the bright side. Smile. Try to imagine being one of those who receive your application amidst a bunch of other applications, and make clear why you should be someone's first choice. Should anyone write your name on Google, something really appealing and unique should come to surface. You want them to say 'Wow! This is the person I would love to have as a student or collaborator!' Try that, try anything creative, and see if it works.

A career in marine mammal science or marine conservation: useful links

Choose life
Advice by George Monbiot. It relates to environmental journalism, but is more generally valid.

Clapham P. 2005. Publish or perish. BioScience 55(5):390-391.

Saving the earth as a career: advice on becoming a conservation professional
by Malcolm L. Hunter, Jr., David Lindenmayer and Aram Calhoun.

Advice for people interested in a career studying marine mammals
by Robin W. Baird

Surviving professional puberty in marine mammalogy: things mom and dad didn’t tell you
by John E. Reynolds, III

Advice to students
by John E. Reynolds, III

Advice for students
by Bernd Würsig

Stanford commencement address
by Steve Jobs

Welcome students
The Student Affairs Committee of the Society for Conservation Biology has assembled resources to assist students in their educational journeys. The web site includes tips on how to make good poster and oral presentations at professional conferences, and on how to write abstracts.

Twelve Tips for Reviewers
by Henry L. Roediger, III
This article is more like advice to senior scientists, but still potentially useful as it basically discusses work ethics. The article also points out that young and inexperienced reviewers may at times do a better job than busy seniors.

E-mail discussion lists

ECS-Talk — A non-moderated e-mail list intended for members of the European Cetacean Society and for whoever is interested in cetacean research.

MARMAM — A moderated e-mail list for those who study marine mammals.