By Chris Keogh
Lost, is probably the best word to describe the feeling felt as a newly graduated student aspiring to work as a fish ecologist. The years of hard work, procrastination, dedication, two minute noodles, procrastination, coffee and late nights, has motored along all too quickly. Mind numbing and tedious at times, being stuck on one paragraph in a discussion and the finding I’d totally missed the target of a hypothesis, those days are all of a sudden to a harsh and sudden halt. From my 3 years at University I have learnt an overwhelming amount of biology and ecology, however there are a few things that really became apparent to me over my course, these include:
- The words Job Stability and Scientist never cross paths.
- Scientists are passionate, not money hungry.
- You need to stand out – send annoying emails repetitively
- Networking is critical – beers
- Postgraduate – the first and last option – more beers
- Freshwater fishos are the best kind of scientists – no offence to anyone
I’m sure every science graduate will agree with me that most courses are very broad and rarely focused, even within specific subjects. Recognizing this early in my degree, I decided it was up to me to expand my knowledge of my interests, I did this in a number of ways from confronting lecturers and asking to base my assignment topics on particular topics, to pestering researchers for volunteer work. In the perfect world a bachelor degree, majoring in the Biology and Ecology of Australian Freshwater Fishes, coordinated by Gerry Allen, Brad Pusey and Mark Lintermans, would be ideal (plenty of guest lecturers as well, you know who you are), but one can only dream. Nevertheless a number of scientists helped me both within my formal subjects and through volunteer opportunities and these people took the time to teach me essentially what I needed. Now here’s the hard part, finding a job.
Rhian Clear giving Ben Broadhurst and me a warm welcome back from the hood, after collecting drift nets
Getting body measurements on Macquarie perch with Ben Broadhurst from the University of Canberra
The term, “getting your foot in the door” is a term I have consistently heard every week of my life for the past 3-4 years. Now getting a foot in the door seems to be a hard slog, but all in all is a thrilling process of networking, emails, phone calls and chance, all driven by the saying “it’s not what you know but who you know”. Although somewhat true, I disagree with this statement for a number of reasons, one reason being it can appear as a bypass of expending energy into learning more and instead of putting your energy into networking. Learning and networking are both equally as important however, when searching for job prospects I believe I should present myself in a manner that would suit both someone who knows me and someone who doesn’t. Words, socializing and good quality banter with friends and scientists is advantageous in numerous ways, but expanding your knowledge is priceless.
Me going head over biscuit in the name of Cod, The fish was unharmed, I came out with a few grazes.
So all this that I have learnt through university, volunteering and research/work, where has it placed me? In a position with numerous contacts, a range of experiences, many new friends and hopefully a foot in the door somewhere. What I gained has prepared me for a career in research science whether it has begun or not. I have somewhat been warmed up for the endeavors of being a scientist through learning new scientific methods, working in team environments, learning how to communicate with different people, working for someone, working for a large company, all while swelling my appreciation for the planet we live on. Science is a tough gig, and limited by resources, time and funding, and I have witnessed firsthand even the best Scientists in the A-grade of Freshwater Ecology struggle for funding and/or work sometimes, but that is science and I’m sure you will all agree with me for the work we do and want to do, its definitely worth it.
Whether it’s the tropical perennial streams of the north or the coffee coloured, blackberry plagued banks of the Murrumbidgee down south, freshwater ecosystems are our common grounds and we are all in it to contribute to the library of knowledge based around Australia’s unique freshwater systems. With this common interest, people and scientists can instantly relate to each other, so for all you freshwater enthusiasts, undergrads, grads and jobless people, I see we all have a place where we will eventually be, we just need to work for it. The harder you work the luckier you get, start networking, volunteering and teaching yourself, it will eventually pay off.
Employer’s and Scientists, tips, pointers, constructive criticism and advice for us graduates would be readily welcomed on this site or my email address at [email protected]. Especially pointers on writing CV’s and selection criteria.
Thanks for taking the time to have a read, and hopefully this article sparked up a few memories and reminded you of when you were first out of university and how far you have come now.
Editor’s note: Chris has been brave here as a recent undergraduate writing his perspective on looking for work in the current era. Offline he asked me if I might be able to drum up some interest in his written piece. So, are there any freshwater fish ecologists, managers, lecturers and the like out there that might like to share a response on the issue of employing recent graduates? I encourage you to consider posting a perspective or maybe writing me a short letter to include on the website. And I’m sure Chris is interested in volunteer opportunities and preferably some form of paid gig………