Ally is a marine ecology research fellow in the field of marine ecology.
Name & Professional Registration
IMarEST Membership Status (Student, Affiliate, Associate, Member or Fellow?)
Role and organisation
Marine Ecology Research Fellow, University of Southampton
Summarise what you do in one sentence
I investigate ways of enhancing engineered coastal structures (e.g. breakwaters, harbour walls) to improve their quality as habitats for marine biodiversity.
Which organisations have you worked for previously?
Chumbe Island Coral Park; Natural England; British Antarctic Survey; Society for Environmental Exploration / Frontier; Centre for Environmental, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas); Open University
Describe a typical workday
There is no such thing as a typical day – that’s the wonderful thing about my job! If it’s a fieldwork week, then I might start at 5am to catch the early spring low-tide, survey my rock pools (part of a study into novel engineering designs for enhancing biodiversity on artificial structures), then go home to check emails and enter data, ready for a second survey at a different site on the evening low-tide. If it’s not a fieldwork week, then I might spend the day in the office at the university, analysing data, writing papers or grant applications, and discussing research ideas with my supervisor. I share the office with PhD students and other postdoctoral researchers, so we also chat about our research, help each other out with lab/aquarium work, and drink a lot of tea.
Describe your academic/training history and how you got to where you are today.
PhD Marine Ecology at Aberystwyth University (2016)
MSc Global Aquatic Biodiversity: Monitoring and Conservation at University of Hull (2006)
BSc Mathematics at University of Leeds (2005)
What skills are required in your position on a day-to-day basis?
One of the most important skills for my role is good time management and logistical organisation – I am required to work independently and self-manage my own diverse workload (although with plenty of advice available if needed). Technical skills I use on a daily basis include experimental design, statistical data analysis, identification and enumeration of marine organisms, microscope work, objective scientific writing, and critical evaluation of published research. It is also very important to be able to communicate effectively with all sorts of different people – academics, policy-makers, local authorities, practitioners and members of the public.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I love working outdoors on the beaches around Wales. During fieldwork campaigns my life is planned around the tides for weeks at a time. I particularly enjoy days when the high tide (signalling end-of-fieldwork window) coincides with good swell so I can jump in for a quick surf at my field site before heading back to the office. Professionally speaking, though, one of the most rewarding elements of my work is communicating with practitioners who wish to implement our research findings – the knowledge that our work will truly make a difference to the marine environment.
What challenges have you had to overcome?
The main challenge I have had to overcome is my choice of undergraduate degree (maths) in which I gained a mediocre grade. This certainly counted against me when applying for very competitive PhD studentships, since a strong academic record is essential in shortlisting. My perseverance in gaining several years’ work experience eventually paid off and enabled me to be successful in securing a funded studentship, but I still have knowledge gaps from not studying a biological undergraduate degree. Fortunately, I have always had colleagues eager to exchange my statistical skills for their biological knowledge.
Describe a typical career path to your current role. How does this differ to your career path?
A typical career path would involve a straightforward progression from A-levels to an undergraduate degree in Marine Biology, to a PhD studentship (possibly via and Masters), and then onto a postdoctoral research job. I certainly didn’t follow a typical career path. I originally planned to study psychology at university, but had a change of heart after taking a gap year and deciding that I wanted to build a career around my love of the ocean. I wasn’t able to switch to a biological science degree programme so I settled for maths. I struggled through the degree and luckily managed to secure a place on a masters degree to study marine biodiversity conservation management. I knew that without a biological degree it would be especially hard to get a relevant job, so I volunteered with wildlife charities until I got my first job as a shellfish scientist. I then spent 5 years working in field, office and laboratory roles in several different marine science sectors, including NGOs, research institutes and government bodies. With the diversity of skills and experience I gained along the way I was finally competitive enough to secure a funded PhD studentship. My multi-sectoral background has lead me to take a strongly applied approach to my research – beyond basic ecological investigation I focus on addressing issues relevant to marine conservation management, industry and policy.
How has being a member of the IMarEST helped you in your career?
I won a runner-up prize in the P1 Marine Foundation’s National Student Awards 2014 and received membership as part of the prize. I’m very grateful and will definitely remain a member as the institute is very relevant to my work. As I have only recently become a member, I am yet to discover how my membership will help my career. But already I receive useful communications about funding opportunities and events relevant to my research and look forward to hearing more.
Which professional journals and organisations help you keep up to date with industry news?
In addition to IMarEST, I am a member of the Marine Biological Association of the UK, the British Ecological Society, the Estuarine and Coastal Sciences Association, the British Phycological Society, the Challenger Society for Marine Science, and the Porcupine Marine Natural History Society. I keep up to date with useful industry news relevant to my research through updates from CIRIA (the Construction Industry Research and Information Association) and also through regular digests from the university communications team. I keep up to date with scientific literature via alerts from relevant journals such as Journal of Applied Ecology, Ecological Applications, Coastal Engineering, Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, and Marine Ecology Progress Series.
Give us an interesting fact about you!
I play the accordion in a band called Sleep Camel. A ‘sleep camel’ is someone who lives fast and goes without much sleep for long periods, storing it all up for later (much like a camel stores water) – this felt particularly apt for us during our PhDs.