Emma Cavan: How did I become involved in Ocean Sciences?

I am currently doing a PhD in the ocean carbon cycle however my aspirations at 16 were somewhat different! I grew up in a house of medics and this limited my career pathway knowledge and hence I applied for degrees in medicine. I was quickly rejected from most of the universities I applied to and to this day I am incredibly grateful!

It was clear medicine wasn’t something I was passionate about but I knew I didn’t want an office job and so biology seemed the obvious choice. However I’d always loved the oceans; I’d lived by the sea for most of my life and I took any chance of going to rock pools, crabbing or snorkeling. I also loved David Attenborough documentaries, my favourite being any related to the marine world. Hence I decided to study Marine Biology at Southampton. I chose Southampton due to its world-class reputation and the fantastic facilities at the National Oceanography Centre.

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I then took a gap year 1) because I wanted to and 2) because I had to due to my late application to marine biology. I left England, my family and all I had known until that point in my life and went to Fiji and Australia for 7 months. In Fiji I took part in a 3-month coral reef volunteering project where we lived in traditional huts on a deserted island complete with rats and falling coconuts! It was by far the best 3 months of my life to date and I’m sure it always will be. I then went on to travel Australia for 4 months before starting my degree in September that year.

Where possible I travelled during the summer holidays of my degree. I also did 2 more conservation projects, this time both with sea turtles as they are my favourite animal and are incredibly vulnerable to human impacts. The first project was in Greece and the second in Guatemala. I could see that whilst these projects were vital, the biggest impact comes from teaching locals how and why they should look after their marine resources and then top-down, coming from policy and government. I decided to be able to have this kind of impact and to keep my brain occupied (even counting turtles and their eggs in tropical countries gets tedious!) I needed a PhD, but I had no idea what on.

I narrowed it down to what I thought were my main interests and biggest impacts on our oceans, fisheries and climate change. I decided I wanted to stay at Southampton to do my PhD, with the hope that after my PhD I would move on. My PhD links to climate change as I am studying the oceanic carbon cycle and although I am an observational scientist as opposed to a modeler or forecast, my observations are important to understand the ocean system now so we may anticipate how it may change in the future.

Although I am not entirely sure the exact area of research I will continue with after my PhD, my aim is to stay in academia and to do a Postdoctoral fellowship. My dream career would to still be researching, hopefully teaching at university level but also to work in policy too. The need for science and policy to combine is being recognized more and more. Scientists need policy makers to take their information and transform it into a policy to see change and policy makers need the scientists to carry out the research. Ideally I would like to be a middle-man in this area, where I still carry out research but also heavily involved in knowledge exchange and working with the government.

(Pictures of 1. A turtle hatchling in Guatemala feeling the ocean for the first time and 2. Myself and a king penguin on South Georgia.)



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