Dr. Sara Marsham completed her degree in Coastal Marine Biology at the Scarborough Centre for Coastal Studies (SCCS) at the University of Hull. She stayed at SCCS to complete her PhD in algal ecology, during which she had part-time roles as Demonstrator and an Academic Administrator in SCCS, and Project Officer in the Centre for Lifelong Learning. In 2007, Dr. Marsham started a one-year Teaching Fellow post at Newcastle University and is now a Senior Lecturer in Marine Biology at Newcastle. Since 2015 she has been the Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching) in the Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering.
Briefly describe your current work and your research.
I am really interested in intertidal and subtidal ecology, specifically interactions between plants and animals. I undertook my PhD research on algal functional groups and whether we could predict feeding preferences of intertidal grazers in relation to algal functional morphology. For the last ten years I have been working as a Teaching and Scholarship academic teaching students on three marine degree programmes. My role does not require me to be involved in discipline-specific research and most of the projects I have been working on have been pedagogic projects focused on assessment and feedback in higher education. However, through my undergraduate and postgraduate research students I have maintained my marine research interests and really enjoy supporting them to undertake their own ecological research.
What do you love the most about your job?
Inspiring future marine scientists. Most of our students start their degree in marine sciences thinking it is all about whales, sharks and dolphins, and while understanding these organisms is very important, it is very rewarding to watch them discover new interests and conduct their own research on topics they did not even know existed when they applied to do their degree with us.
How difficult was it to get where you are today?
I wouldn’t say getting to where I am today has been very difficult really. For my final year undergraduate research project I worked on photosynthetic recovery in intertidal algae and it was then I realised I was interested in doing a PhD in algal ecology. My undergraduate research project supervisor offered me the opportunity to work with him to continue the functional group research he had been working on. After my PhD I had a number of part-time jobs in academia – I taught in three departments and worked for a Centre for Lifelong Learning, all of which gave me experience of working within higher education. After finishing my PhD I worked overseas for a few months as a Dive Master for a conservation organisation. When I returned to the UK I planned to continue my series of part-time roles but saw a position advertised for a one-year Teaching Fellow in Marine Biology. I applied and was successful. During my first year I worked hard to make myself indispensable, which paid off as I got another year contract extension. I continued to contribute as much as I could to the learning and teaching activities within my academic school and my contract was made open ended. Being taken seriously as someone interested in learning and teaching in a research-intensive university was a challenge, but I have tried to provide solutions and support to my colleagues to help them deliver their teaching. I am fortunate to work in a Russell Group institution that puts significant value on learning and teaching and I have been successful in being promoted from Teaching Fellow to Lecturer (Teaching and Scholarship) to Senior Lecturer (Teaching and Scholarship).
What was the biggest obstacle in your way before your career reached where it is today? How did you overcome it?
Being a self-funded PhD student, financing my studies was a challenge. However, my department was very supportive and provided me with lots of opportunities to get involved in demonstrating in laboratory and field practicals and on residential field courses. During my PhD an opportunity arose for me to work part-time as an Academic Administrator within my department and my supervisors really encouraged me to do this. This meant my PhD took five years but taking that post allowed me to have an income and it gave me great experience of working in an academic setting.
What are you looking forward to the most in the future of marine science?
Seeing how we can continue to use technology to solve some of the challenges facing our marine environment. Our ability to explore and understand the marine environment has already benefitted so much from technological advances but as the development of technologies continues to increase, I look forward to seeing how we can use these innovatively.
How do you think we can get more women involved within marine science?
Engaging girls from an early age. I remember going to the beach when I was younger and screaming my head off in terror as my brother chased me with kelp. Getting young females involved in practical marine activities whilst they are at school generates their interest in the subject and opens it up as an option when they start thinking about GCSEs and A-levels. I became interested in marine sciences during an A-level Biology residential field course – during the week we undertook lots of different practical sessions but the one that really made an impression on me was the rocky shore surveying session and when I returned to school I knew I wanted to do Marine Biology as a degree.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring female marine scientists?
Get involved in the right opportunities. They don’t necessarily have to be marine – demonstrating an interest in the natural sciences regardless of the ecosystem is really important. When we consider applications for our Marine Science programmes we want people who convey a genuine passion for the environment and for learning. Yes, everyone has watched Blue Planet and is inspired by David Attenborough – what makes you different? What have you done that sets you apart from others?
In one sentence, why do you think a career within marine science is a great career option?
Every day is different and I get paid to go rockpooling!
Social Media Links
Website – https://www.ncl.ac.uk/nes/staff/profile/saramarsham.html#background
I would like to give a massive thank you to Dr. Sara Marsham for participating in this interview. I cannot wait to share more of your stories and I hope that you find inspiration in learning of other journeys within marine science.
Are you a woman working within marine science? Would you like to share your story and inspire the next generation? Please get in contact with me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to be involved with the Leading Women in Marine Science Interview Series.
Disclaimer: All responses to the interview questions belong to Dr. Sara Marsham. The biography also belongs to Dr. Sara Marsham. The photo credits are: cover photo – Tim Dixon; headshot – Dr. Sara Marsham; rockyshore and kelp – Heather Sugden.