“I’ve managed to have a career in marine without having had a job near the sea!”
Two decades into her career, Diane Jones CSci CMarSci is still impressed how marine professionals, including herself, can contribute to marine environment knowledge and understanding from an onshore location.
1 What should IMarEST members know about you?
I still feel like a novice, as I’m always learning something new. I always feel surprised when someone asks how long I’ve been working in the marine environment – it’s coming up to 23 years now. It’s been a varied career, so that may be why I forget I have the experience I have!
I’ve somehow managed to have a career in the marine environment without having had a job near the sea. So far, all my employers have been in landlocked counties, with the closest bit of water being the River Thames – and not even the tidal part. Only during my university degrees have I been close to the sea, despite it being one of my favourite places.
2 What inspired you to join the maritime industry?
I used to snorkel along the coast in Paignton and loved watching all the creatures on the seawalls going about their daily lives. I knew I wanted to do something related to the marine environment so took a marine biology degree and have carried on taking opportunities that interested me.
3 Describe your early career.
My early career was spent looking down a microscope at tiny invertebrates. I spent the first five years after my undergraduate degree working for a survey company that processed samples from all types of habitats around the UK, intertidal and offshore, and reported on the species found. I spent time carrying out fish surveys with local fishermen who were really interested in what we were doing and why. Although the 2am tides were sometimes a challenge, I really enjoyed that first job. I like puzzles, so working out what an animal could possibly be when the samples were not always in one piece was fun.
I wanted to challenge myself further and found training new staff – which was part of my lab work – really enjoyable, so I looked into teaching and ended up back at university at 26 and continued my education with a PhD. Since then I’ve worked in consultancy, in projects from offshore renewables to flood defences, and marine research in acoustics and dredging.
4 How did you get to your current role?
I was looking for jobs in the south of England. By pure chance my partner’s father worked for HR Wallingford, who were starting a marine environment group and he encouraged me to apply. I started just after my PhD and learned about consultancy and the myriad different projects I could be involved in, and how the science knowledge I had often underpinned the decision making. When the opportunity came for the next step, I moved on to Mott MacDonald to assist in building the marine environment team.
5 Describe maritime’s biggest challenges.
Lack of knowledge. We work to understand the potential impacts that human activities are having on the marine environment, on terrestrial and freshwater systems, and on our lives, but without the knowledge to really understand interactions and consequences of our actions.
Technology is developing faster than ever before, and infrastructure needs to support that is coming along just as fast. Marine environment scientists are trying to decide what is important so we can feed it into decision making, but the costs are prohibitive and new technologies need testing.
6 What are you most passionate about in maritime today?
Whole seascape thinking – don’t just keep the work to one small specialism, include everyone, because we need that holistic approach to protect our habitats and biodiversity whilst keeping up with the needs of society as a whole.
7 When did you join the IMarEST and what does it mean for you?
My PhD supervisor actively encouraged students to join and the IMarEST also gave talks on the benefits. I joined in 2010. Being a member keeps me up to date with some of the ideas forming in the marine community, but also means that someone in a professional capacity has looked at my skills and capabilities and validated them. My PhD validates my scientific skills and shows I know how to research and ask questions. The Chartership shows that I know how to apply that knowledge to real world projects and problems in the marine environment.
8 What’s the best career advice you’ve been given?
I’m a retrospective introvert, so being able to push for what I want has always been hard. The best advice I got was to go away, think about it, and come back with the reasons why. It made me think about what I wanted from my career and why, and also about myself and my behaviours, to get where I wanted.
9 And what advice do you give to those starting out?
Do something you enjoy and take the opportunities as they come, but also (and especially since the pandemic) have some time to yourself, for yourself.
10 What's next for you?
Continuing to build the marine environment team at Mott MacDonald and seeing what the future holds in coastal restoration and marine net gain. It’s going to be a challenging few years ahead but I’m looking forward to doing some really positive work in this field.
Interested in becoming a Chartered Scientist (CSci) / Chartered Marine Scientist (CMarSci) or CMarSci (Hydrography)? Click the links to find out more about applications and the benefits it can bring.