Rachel Parsons in the lab

This week on ‘An Interview with WiseOceans’ we spoke with Rachel Parsons from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences

Name: Rachel Parsons

Role: Research Specialist

Company: Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences

Top Tip: Get as much field and lab experience while you can, learn to code as you never know when you will need it and travel as much as you can!

Quick Fire Questions

1. What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation? 

My career is more marine research but our findings are used towards marine conservation. BIOS has carried out research in the Sargasso Sea with the BATS time-series starting in 1988. Much of the research done has been used towards protecting the Sargasso Sea.

My career path began with an interest and ability in the sciences. Being from Bermuda, I am surrounded by the ocean and so a career in marine science was a natural choice. Internships at BIOS through the Bermuda Program solidified this career path for me.

2. What steps did you take or are you currently taking to achieve your career goals?

I started by studying the sciences at Ordinary level and for the International Baccalaureate. I continued studying Biochemistry at the University of Nottingham and Aquatic Resource Management at King’s College, London. As part of my Masters, I had to write a thesis on a work placement and I chose BIOS. My report was on human fecal pollution in Bermuda’s inshore waters. I was hooked and have been a research technician and research specialist at BIOS since 1994. Currently, I am working on two great projects BIOS-SCOPE and C-CoMP with top researchers in their fields encompassing many countries. I am also working on a PhD by publication in microbial oceanography with some of my collaborators.

3. How did you obtain your current position? 

I was one of the few Bermudians at the time with an interest in oceanography. A friend at BIOS who helped mentor me with various internships, did the same masters and encouraged BIOS faculty to hire me. I was hired by Dr. Tony Michaels for a short-term project and must have done something right as I was offered a full-time position by Dr. Dennis Hansell as his research technician measuring dissolved organic carbon in the World’s oceans. The best things that I did was go to sea with Dr. Hansell who soon worked out that he did not need to watch over my work and was able to work on collaborative experiments. Dr. Hansell and his Post Doctoral student, Dr. Craig Carlson were great mentors and we became a trusted team.

4. Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?  

I enjoy the collaborations, the science and training the next generations. My forte is trouble shooting protocols and getting difficult protocols to work seamlessly. Getting a difficult protocol to work is a great feeling.

5. Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’? 

When a student previously interested in coral reef ecology switches to microbial ecology.

When leaders in their field visits my poster at a conference and tell me to keep up the good work.

When I see my previous interns succeed in their career of choice.

6. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?

That running a lab involves a lot more administration than just working in a lab. Being in the lab makes me happy and most days I am on the computer following up on orders, shipping and budgeting. I wish that I had learned not to be bothered by the opinions of other scientists. Part of being a scientist is taking criticism through the peer review process.

7. Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?

I am having to learn the R Programming language and never thought that I would be writing R code in the evenings while watching TV.

8. What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?  

Get as much field and lab experience while you can, learn to code as you never know when you will need it and travel as much as you can. Learning about different cultures and their way of dealing with marine conservation is very important given that the oceans see no boundaries.

9. What is your favourite marine creature and why?

My favourite marine creature has to be marine archaea. There are single celled organisms that are not strictly prokaryotes as they have a more complex metabolism and cell membrane. As a result, they can live in extreme environments like hydrothermal vents, the deep ocean and potentially in space. Scientists believe that archaea were the precursor to eukaryotic life. Marine archaea are important to biochemical cycling in the ocean. For instance, Thaumarcheota can oxidize ammonia at a greater rate than nitrifying bacteria. Thus, they are essential to the marine nitrogen cycle.

10. What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?

I have had the opportunity to go to Antarctica three times and seeing the Orca whales, seals and penguins on the ice flows was a magical moment for me.

“Learning about different cultures and their way of dealing with marine conservation is very important given that the oceans see no boundaries.”

Rachel Parsons

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