Discussion with Dr. Julia Baum: Insight into Pursuing a Career in Academia

As part of the Inspire Ocean Discussion Series, Dr. Julia Baum kindly gave a presentation on her career path in academia. She received her B.Sc. at the University of Guelph and a M.Sc. and Ph.D. from Dalhousie University. Today, she is an Assistant Professor at UVic with her time divided into 40% research, 40% teaching, and 20% service (which includes public outreach). Her research focuses on marine conservation and includes how anthropogenic disturbances are affecting marine communities, diversity and ecosystem function. Her work has led her to the Christmas Islands to conduct field research. During the discussion, Julia gave advice and wise words to those planning to pursue a career in academia.

julia and kara She told us about the hard realities of an academic career in the marine sciences – it is a lot of work, but if you really love it then you should go for it. Being a marine biologist isn’t about hugging dolphins. Your drive should come from a curiosity for science as an exercise in problem solving. In other words, you should have a genuine interest in the process of scientific discovery, rather than a romanticized idea of marine science. Julia talked about how much of her time was spent working hard at a computer and in the lab and only a fraction in the field. However, it was her love for the scientific process that kept her motivated.

When pursuing a career in the marine sciences, be creative and keep an open mind about the different career opportunities available. Remember that a large diversity of careers apart from research can have a connection to the ocean – whether it is a journalist, filmmaker or an educator. Julia emphasized that a career path in academia does not have to be a straight trajectory. Don’t be discouraged if you miss an opportunity or if you find yourself in a position that is unrelated to your targeted career destination. When Julia started her academic career she was interested in terrestrial ecosystems. It wasn’t until later that she found an interest and career in the marine sciences.

Research experience outside the classroom is always beneficial, regardless of your academic career path. In particular, lab experience is extremely advantageous and can help you learn how real science is done. Julia advised that when applying for a lab position it is imperative that you write a letter of inquiry as well as provide a CV and transcript. Make your letter stand out and try to refrain from only talking about your personal connection to the ocean – you can include this but go deeper. Tailor your letter to the research interests of the professor in charge of the lab and indicate how they relate to your interests and skill set.

And above all, it is important to remember that it will be your passion and scientific curiosities that will push you through the long nights and dark days of never-ending data analysis and pure hard work.  But the end result will surely be worth it!

-Kara Aschenbrenner, OSS Member

The next discussion will be held February 15th from 3:00-4:00pm at the UVic Grad House. There will be two guest speakers presenting: David Fissel, a research oceanographer and Glenda Watt, from ASL Environment Sciences

For more information about the Inspire Ocean Discussion Series contact Ellyn Davidson: ellynd@ uvic.ca or visit the Ocean Students Society website: https://sites.google.com/site/oceanstudentssociety/ .

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