edited by Giovanni Bearzi
How does one become a cetacean researcher?
My suggestion is to come up with reasonably clear ideas about what you want to do, where and how. Ideally, you should aim to something felt as important, and also feasible based on your skills.
Don’t miss opportunities to make experience. Try to participate in some field or lab activity, doing work as close to your interests as possible to gain practical experience on that particular subject. Find out what is the area where you do particularly well (this may include lab work, field work, writing, photography, statistics or even management, environmental policy and public awareness).
If you ‘feel good’ doing something and have a sense of being ‘at home’ whenever you do that, then you may have found your own specialty. Go for it, and try to develop a specific project or an interesting proposal to motivate other people and attract funding.
Do not rely too much on letters and CVs. Try to meet the relevant people in person, at their offices or in the field. Attend marine mammal and marine conservation conferences, visit various institutes and NGOs. Show that your choice of working with a person or organisation is motivated and based on some kind of ‘affinity’.
Field courses proposed by various research organisations can be a reasonable first step for developing basic skills and knowing how you feel doing work on cetaceans on a boat or at a field station. These courses may also offer chances of talking with researchers or students and getting valuable advise. If possible, try different experiences and research groups before deciding what works best for you. In any case, do not put everything in somebody else’s hands: the choice should be yours.
As a general rule, you have better chances of success if you do something based on enthusiasm and passion, and you do not lose sight of your goals along the way.
What to do?
READ as much scientific literature as possible, so that you know everything about your own field of investigation (and beyond)
ATTEND marine science and conservation conferences and workshops
GET TO KNOW the key players in person
VISIT cetacean laboratories, universities, NGO headquarters, museums, libraries, research centres, field stations...
PARTICIPATE in field courses and expeditions
LEARN from your peers
DEVELOP multiple skills that can benefit your work and career
WRITE as much as you can, and develop an appreciation for structure, meaning, synthesis, style and lack of typos
COMMIT to what you do, and spend much time and effort actually doing it
DO YOUR BEST which probably also means: do not fall in love too soon with the work you did — there may be still much you can do to make it better.
"I have done my best."
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