marine sciences (fwd)

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Date: Sun Jan 23 2005 - 19:18:17 EST

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    Date: Mon, 24 Jan 2005 00:00:03 -0800 (PST)
    From: Pieter Folkens <>
    To: Austin Williams <>,
    Subject: Re: marine sciences

    I checked my "sent file" and did not see my previous
    response to your questions. SO, in case it did not go
    through to you, I'll give it another shot.

    > For my English class I must
    > conduct various interviews related to my "Dream job"
    which is to
    > become a marine biologist. If you could answer these
    > questions I would be very great full. This
    assignment is due
    > on Monday the 24th

    > 1. Tell me about your job including your title and

    I am a Science Communicator with a specialty in the
    field of marine mammals. To support that specialty I
    have extensive field and research experience in the
    subject, particularly in cetacean morphology,
    paleontology, and osteology. I have also published
    major work in the field of osteology (bones).
    I am a freelancer, that is, I am self-employed.

    > 2. What do you like most about it?

    Being self employed offers me great academic freedom
    to pursue any direction that interests me.
    > 3. How did you obtain this position?

    I did not obtain it, rather I made it. It grew on
    > 4. What kind of college degree/credentials/skills
    are needed?

    Some people I know have a satisfyingn career in the
    field with only a BA or BS. Most, however, have at
    least a master's degree. There are many Ph.D.s in the
    field as well, though a Ph.D does not guarantee
    satisfaction or success.
    > 5. What types of people do well in your field?

    Good science requires a high degree of integrity.
    Curiosity is also valuable. I've noticed that those
    who come to the field with a wider background of
    experience and education do quite well. For example,
    one of the finest naturalists, teachers and marine
    mammalogists was Ken Norris. He is best known for
    accomplishments in Cetology (whales and dolphins),
    though his education was more centered in desert
    ecology. We was also a good artist and communicator.
    > 6. What are the opportunities for advancement?

    I make my own advancements. However, most of the jobs
    in the field are in academia and government.
    Opportunities there require working within a
    bureaucracy and politically-charged academic
    > 7. What is the entry-Level salary range in this

    $0.00. Many of those working in the field of marine
    mammalogy started volunteering at museums, theme
    parks, rescue/rehab facilities, and in conservation.
    Researchers typically begin in college without
    salaries, then find positions after graduation
    influenced greatly by associations and reputations
    developed while at school.
    > 8. What is the employment outlook (locally,
    regionally, and
    > nationally)?

    Not immensely good, but opportunities come up fairly
    often. There are more people who would like to work
    with whales and dolphins than there are paying jobs to
    support them. One must be flexible and not too picky.
    > 9. What are the drawbacks of this job?

    Unless one obtains a tenured postition in academia or
    a permanent postition in a major museum, a drawback is
    job security and a regular pay check. Plagiarism can
    be a problem too. The better you are, the more your
    work is plagiarized.
    > 10. Why do people leave this occupation?

    Retirement. I've known many who have retired, but
    continue to participate and contribute in the field.
    > 11. Can you suggest any one else I might contact?

    The Society for Marine Mammalogy has a node on its web
    site that gives insights regarding careers in the
    field. Google the Society, or check the WhaleNet web
    site. I think they have a link.
    > 12. What do you prefer, field work or lab work and

    I like both. The field work can be grueling, dirty and
    uncomfortable, but it often puts one on the cutting
    edge of discovery. In the lab it all comes together
    and is intellectually stimulating.
    > 13. What field of the marine sciences first
    interested you in a career
    > in the sciences (marine mammals, plankton,
    gastropods, ect.)?

    Marine paleontology. When most boy in the 3rd grade
    were ga-ga over dinosaurs, I was in the foothills
    digging up Miocene marine mammal fossils.
    > 14. Have you made any significant discoveries or
    have you been
    > involved with any groundbreaking research? If so,

    In the late 1970s and early 80s I volunteered on a
    team from the LA County Museum of Natural History that
    discovered several archaic whales, dolphins and sea
    lions. I contributed a new species of a Pliocene
    mysticete (baleen whale) to LACM which was found in
    Central California. More recently I discovered a new
    species of dolphin in Mexico. The specimen ended up at
    a University in Mexico where it is being studied and
    described for publication later this year.
    Dr. Fred Sharpe and I have been working for years on
    the notion of "flipper flashing" of prey by humpback
    whales in Alaska. We believe humpbacks use the white
    on their long pectoral fins to flash their prey in an
    effort to improve their feeding efficiency. Early on
    the idea was dismissed. However, with a ship-load of
    convincing evidence we are preparing a paper for
    publication later this year.

    > 15. When first entering the field, what road blocks
    might I come
    > across when trying to find a job in field research?

    Limited job opportunities. More accurately, there are
    lots of opportunities to do field research, but
    finding some one who will pay you for it is a
    different matter.

    I recommend that you get a good background education
    in science. For humanities course work, focus on those
    classes that hone your communication skills—creative
    writing, field sketching, photography, etc. Volunteer
    at a museum, zoo, or marine theme park if there is one
    near you.

    Good luck!

    Pieter Folkens
    Alaska Whale Foundation

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