After growing up close to the ocean on the Isle of Man and learning to dive, Dr. Freya Garry was excited to find a course studying Oceanography at the University of Southampton. She stayed at Southampton based at the National Oceanography Centre studying for her PhD, researching deep ocean heat content and understanding the limitations of observing systems for temperature change. Dr. Freya Garry was lucky enough to go on a research cruise in the Southern Ocean, which included visiting Antarctica. She now works as a postdoctoral research associate with Dr Paul Halloran at the University of Exeter, where together with colleagues from the University of Cardiff and the Met Office they seek to understand changes in Atlantic climate.
Briefly describe your current work and your research.
I am a climate scientist and oceanographer, so I am interested in how the ocean moves and how heat moves between the atmosphere and ocean affecting our climate. At the moment I’m studying how the climate in the Atlantic changes over hundreds of years, because before humans started changing the climate, the climate still ‘wiggled’. To predict future climate and weather we have to understand both these natural ‘wiggles’ as well as the changes we are making to the climate. I use climate models to figure out what limited observations can tell us, and also use observations to check that models behave in a similar way to how we observe the climate. Since we have only directly observed the oceans for about a hundred years, I work with palaeoclimatologists at the University of Cardiff who use the chemistry from the shells of marine bivalves to create yearly records of marine change. The shells have annual growth bands, like a tree, and this exact accurate dating makes them a really useful way to understand the oceans of the past.
What do you love the most about your job?
The variety – I can be writing computer code and working on the Met Office supercomputer one morning, and then talking to school children about my research later in the day. Scientific research indulges both my creativity, my love of learning and discovery and my enjoyment of creating something meaningful. My research does involve a lot of time working alone on a computer, but I also really enjoy organising seminars in the department and this year co-creating Women in Climate, a network to help improve retention of early career scientists in climate research at the University of Exeter.
How difficult was it to get where you are today?
Academic life has its challenges, particularly during the PhD, but the skills built during those challenges have helped me overcome future problems. For me, balancing the different opinions of supervisors during my PhD, and building resilience for the inevitable failures we encounter frequently in academia have been some of the hardest things. Generally though I have always felt welcome in marine science, so the hardest times for me have been more associated with getting used to difficulties inherent in working in academia.
What was the biggest obstacle in your way before your career reached where it is today? How did you overcome it?
My own confidence. I’ve been lucky enough to always be encouraged to achieve by my family, school and university and I’ve always done well academically, but I’ve also often worried I’ll not be quite good enough for the next challenge. Encouraging words from mentors have played a big part in giving me the confidence to apply for jobs I worried I wouldn’t get. Now, I try to keep positive feedback in mind and remind myself to just go for things and not worry so much about the possibility of failure.
What are you looking forward to the most in the future of marine science?
The new technological developments which will enable better ocean observation so that we can accurately estimate how it is changing; there is still so much to discover about how the ocean works!
How do you think we can get more women involved within marine science?
For any part of marine science, there are challenges associated with academia and science in general as well as those associated with the fieldwork required. The gender imbalance in STEM disciplines is generally worse in senior roles so the challenge is to keep women in science, as well as studying it in the first place. Role models are key to this, with mentoring and discussion groups also helpful tools.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring female marine scientists?
Just go for it! Seize opportunities that excite you with enthusiasm, don’t dwell too long on the failures, just take on helpful advice and move on, and take the time to enjoy the amazing experiences and fieldwork that you do get.
In one sentence, why do you think a career within marine science is a great career option?
You can have amazing fun joining us exploring the fascinating marine realm and contributing to humanity’s major challenges of ensuring adequate sustainable resources and understanding/coping with climate change.
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I would like to give a massive thank you to Dr. Freya Garry 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 email@example.com 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. Freya Garry. The biography and all photographs used also belong to Dr. Freya Garry.