Rachel Louise Gunn
I am a 24 year old marine biologist currently based at Lancaster University, with research links across the Caribbean. I have always loved the natural world, and spent a lot of time rock pooling as a child! I knew I loved the ocean from a young age, but made the decision to study Zoology rather than Marine Biology to keep my options open, as at this point, I was interested in everything and anything animal related.
My undergraduate degree in Zoology from the University of Nottingham was an amazing experience for me, without which I would not be where I am today. At the end of my second year, I went out on an expedition with Operation Wallacea. The marine expedition I selected took me to Utila, Honduras for PADI dive training followed by a marine ecology course. During my time in Utila I started to realise that my passion was turning towards marine biology.
I attended a talk on invasive lionfish given by on of the researchers. This was a turning point for me. I found the talk so fascinating that I came home and applied to complete a taught masters in marine biology at Bangor University. In particular, the topic of invasive lionfish peaked my interest. With this in mind, I completed my PADI Divemaster and MSD training in Tenerife in 2016 in order to complete my masters thesis on invasive lionfish. For this research, I spent 2 months in the Cayman Islands conducting lionfish density surveys to address lionfish density and abundance in relation to management efforts. This experience opened my eyes to marine research and I knew I wanted to do more, but I didn’t know what that ‘more’ was….
I took a year out of education following my masters, but returning in some aspect was always my goal. My masters thesis gave me the opportunity to attend the ‘European Coral Reef Symposium’ in Oxford, where I gave a talk and presented a poster on my thesis research. Whilst at the conference, I came across a PhD that caught my interest. I applied tentatively under the assumption that I had nothing to lose, and a few months later I was selected as the PhD candidate and am now in my first year of study,
I am aware that that all sounds as though finding a PhD or a career in conservation is easy. It’s not. Prior to applying for the PhD, I had applied to over 70 marine based jobs and heard nothing back, I was rejected from various other PhD opportunities and for a while thought I would never get anywhere. During this time, I applied to be a reef ecology lecturer, again with Operation Wallacea in Utila. I got the job and can honestly say it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It was the first time I felt respected as an academic, with people relying on my knowledge and experience. Furthermore, I gave a talk on invasive lionfish in the very same room that I listened to the talk that inspired me to follow the marine conservation path in the first place.
So where am I now? As mentioned above, I have just started a PhD at Lancaster University and I love it! Head over to the current research page of the site to learn more about my PhD project. In any free time i have, I write blogs for this site and for conservation careers. I’m also involved in outreach work in a couple of schools across the country. I go into the schools and talk to students about my own experience and how they can get the best start possible to a conservation based career.
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