June 2014 | Marine Biologist, Lwandle Technologies
I work at Lwandle Technologies, an oceanographic company based in Cape Town, as a marine ecologist. We work with marine development companies, by investigating the marine environment (taking measurements in the field and reading available literature) to determine the effects/impacts each development will have on the ocean ecosystem/coastline. As a marine scientist I am lucky enough to work in and travel to some amazing places!
1) Briefly describe what your job involves.
At Lwandle we all perform a range of tasks, but my job normally involves collecting data or researching certain marine locations and then compiling reports which describe the local marine environment. Trying to understand biological systems is always challenging and exciting and there are new things to learn every day. I also manage projects, which involves dealing with timelines and budgets and general business administration. People management is another aspect of my job, and one which keeps me on my toes as I can't only focus on my own personal tasks!
2) What would a typical day at the office entail?
In the marine science field there are very few "typical" days in the office as you're never quite sure when an urgent offshore project may crop up, or when the weather and ocean conditions may be right for you to go out to sea. When I am in the office, I have to deal with quite a few emails, write scientific reports, interpret data and plan upcoming projects. Lwandle is focussed on staff development and as such I also need to ensure I'm keeping up to speed with new skills or computer programs that help us to work better. When I'm in the field we mostly work on large vessels (ships) that travel offshore and we typically stay onboard for 1-2 weeks. During this time we take water and sediment samples from the water column and the ocean floor using a variety of instruments. This is an exciting part of a marine scientist's job, if you don't get too sea sick and don't mind getting your hands (and clothes) full of mud!
3) Can you describe the most exciting part of your job?
I think field work is the most exciting part of my job – it is also the most demanding! We go out to sea or onto a project site to gain a better understanding of the local environment and to take measurements for analyses. Because we have clients all over Africa, I am fortunate to travel to some exciting destinations like Mozambique, Angola and Namibia. Each country provides their own unique conditions and ecosystems (rocky shores, deep sea, beach systems etc). It is especially exciting taking samples and measurements from these coastal/offshore areas because often, not much research has been done there previously and you have the chance to describe new aspects of the local environment.
4) What are some of the challenges you had to face and overcome as a woman in your career?
Due to the nature of some of the work we do, marine science has traditionally been a somewhat male dominated industry and as a young female scientist one can easily feel intimidated. It is important to build confidence in yourself and your ideas to ensure your opinions are heard. When we go out to sea, I am often one of the only women onboard and this can prove challenging at times. However, as soon as you learn to be confident in yourself and your abilities you will find that any gender stereotypes there may have been, will soon fall away and your opinions/suggestions are valued.
5) How did you make your career choice?
I have always loved the outdoors and was not keen on choosing a career where I would always be indoors and behind a computer. Because of this, I decided to do a Bachelor of Science at university as this allowed flexibility within many different fields of science. At university I always chose the courses that interested me the most and I ended up specialising in environmental science and marine biology.
6) What qualifications do you require to work in your field?
I have a master's degree (MSc) in Oceanography. You can enter the industry with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree (3 years) but you will be more sought after (to potential employers) and better prepared for research and writing if you do continue studying and complete an honours/masters degree.
7) Can you describe the most important skills you require for this work environment?
To work in the marine sciences you need to have an open mind, to allow you to consider many different ideas or concepts and opinions. You also need to keep calm in pressured situations, because things often go wrong and you have to think on your feet to work out the best solution. Finally I think it's important to have a passion for finding out new things and how the environment works, this will make working in this industry fun and meaningful.
8) What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership is hugely important especially in the work place. Leaders give other people direction and motivation and ensure that things are happening as smoothly as possible. As a leader you should also be a role model to your colleagues by setting an example for those working with you. Leadership is not about dictatorship, but rather about trying to get the best out of the people you work with in order to get the job done well and efficiently. You should not shy away from giving or receiving constructive criticism as this is great for your own and your colleague's personal development.
9) What advice would you give girls who are considering a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematic (STEM)?
It's really important to get a good grounding in the principals and problem solving techniques that you learn early on in maths and science subjects. If you spend enough time learning and understanding these principals the first time, it will make your progression to more difficult material much easier. Also I recommend putting a lot of thought into your career choices and make sure that you're going to enjoy doing what you are signing up for. If you love your job or what you are studying, it will make your work much easier. It is always a good idea to speak/connect with people who are already working in an industry you are interested in (before you start studying), as they can give you first hand advice and tips about what to expect. Lastly - Don't give up! STEM subjects are difficult, but your challenges can be overcome with the help of your friends/teachers/tutors.