An Interview with WiseOceans… Sara Marsham from Newcastle University
As a lecturer in Marine Biology, Sara has a wealth of experience and knowledge to share. Read on for her tips on how to get the skills you need for your perfect career, from places you might not expect!
Name: Sara Marsham
Job Title: Lecturer in Marine Biology and Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching) for the Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering
Organisation: Newcastle University
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
Like many people I loved going to the beach as a child and grew up close enough to the coast to visit regularly. During my Biology A-level I went on a residential field course to a forest in North Yorkshire, but the week involved a couple of trips to Filey Brigg rocky shore to study marine ecosystems. I knew at that point I wanted to be a “Marine Biologist” and completed a degree in Coastal Marine Biology. My degree gave me a solid understanding of the whole ecosystem and really provided an insight into the importance of recognising how everything interacts and works together to produce a balanced system. Some of my favourite modules at university covered marine law and I still have a fascination with the law of sea and how we manage our marine resources sustainably.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
While conducting my final year research project at university I realised that I wanted to continue to develop my research skills and had the opportunity to conduct a PhD with my research supervisor. As I had no clear idea of what I wanted to do after my PhD I focused on completing my project but took opportunities that presented themselves to me. During my PhD I was fortunate to have the chance to do a lot of demonstrating in undergraduate practical classes and on field courses, and even deliver some lectures and practicals on my own. I contributed to marine/ecology-focused degree programmes, which developed my knowledge of fundamental subjects. It took me five years to do my PhD as I did two years part-time, which enabled me to work in several positions/departments in the university where I studied and gain a strong grasp of the teaching environment. I spent two years working part-time as an Academic Administrator, which gave me great insight as to how universities work. I also worked part-time for the Centre for Lifelong Learning, which built on my teaching skills and gave me the experience to work one-to-one with adult learners returning to education. Towards the end of my PhD I taught at another Further Education/Higher Education institute – the students I taught were agricultural students and the modules had nothing to do with the marine environment, but I adapted my marine-specific materials to match their needs. Alongside working and studying I also progressed from PADI Open Water to DiveMaster, after completing my DiveMaster as an internship over a year. By expanding my skills I wanted to give myself the chance to be successful in whatever career I chose to follow and not be too restricted in a specific direction.
- How did you land your current job/position?
After completing my PhD I was working part-time in the Centre for Lifelong Learning and part-time teaching across a number of departments. I then had the opportunity to work overseas for a conservation organisation and so spent two months in Indonesia teaching conservation volunteers how to dive, and leading research dives. When I returned from Indonesia there was a one year fixed term position for a Teaching Fellow at Newcastle University advertised. I did not expect to get the job, but applied and really focused my application on my teaching skills. I was successful and after the first year my contract was renewed for a further year. During my first couple of years at Newcastle I involved myself as much as possible in the delivery and organisation of the degree programmes, and at the end of the second year my post was made open ended. In 2014 I was promoted from Teaching Fellow to Lecturer (Teaching and Scholarship) based on evidence of my teaching excellence, and in 2015 was appointed as the Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching in my Faculty.
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Interacting with students and encouraging their passion to pursue their interests in the marine environment. I lead a final year module that allows the students to collect their dissertation data overseas – the majority of these projects focus on marine conservation and it is great to supervise these projects and keep involved in this area. Many of our students go and work with the conservation organisation I used to work for, and it is brilliant to see projects developing over the years and our understanding of the ecosystems increasing.
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
When a student is struggling with a concept or is unsure of what direction to go in, it is very rewarding to spend that bit of extra time with them and talk through their options or explain something in a different way.
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
Have confidence in your ability. Don’t worry about following a defined path – with hard work and dedication you will achieve what you set out to do. There is no one way of getting there so take whatever journey is presented to you and make the most of it along the way.
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
Administration skills – being able to use a photocopier and have a good telephone manner are essential!
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
Take the opportunities that are presented to you. They do not have to be in the marine sector – develop essential skills anywhere you can and show marine employers how you can apply those skills to the role they are advertising. Employers are interested in you and what you can offer regardless of where you gained those experiences.
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
Blue-rayed limpet. The invertebrates are much over-looked but just as interesting and important. They are so beautiful with their iridescent stripes and for something so small, can have a major impact on the seaweed they inhabit.
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
Seeing a blue-ringed octopus foraging on the reef at around 18m depth in Bunaken in Indonesia. Our dive guide had swam past it and as I approached the reef the movement caught my eye – it was such an unexpected find and an awesome experience!
Thank you Sara. A great demonstration of how to combine study with work to create an all-round set of skills, making you the perfect candidate for your dream job.
If you are thinking about your future studies, why not have a look at what courses are on offer at Newcastle University.
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