My name is Nia Jones and I am currently studying an MESci in Environmental Geography at Cardiff University. I studied Geography, Maths and Chemistry for A levels in a Welsh medium school in South Wales before going to study at Cardiff University. I am currently researching the habitat preference of the invasive lionfish in Honduras for my third year dissertation and run an anti single-use plastic campaign, The No Straw Stand alongside my studies.
Briefly describe your current work and your research.
I am about to enter my third year of a four-year integrated masters (MESci) in Environmental Geography. I am currently researching for my third-year dissertation on the habitat preference of the invasive lionfish. This has allowed me to travel to Honduras to the summer and conduct dive transects on the Banco Capiro reef off the coast of Tela where lionfish are contributing to the macro-algal phase shift of the reef which if left to manifest could cause the destruction of coral on the reef and lead to massive reductions in biodiversity.
Alongside my studies, I run a campaign alongside a fellow student, Douglas Lewns, encouraging Cardiff businesses to forgo plastic straws for a sustainable alternative called ‘The No Straw Stand’ (nostrawstand.com). Over 50 businesses have now chosen to take the ‘stand’ in the city and we are currently branching out to provide educational workshops to schools and youth-orientated events. We have also been working closely with the council and Cornish author, Ellie Jackson so deliver books on plastic pollution into every primary school in Cardiff – meaning 27,000 children will now be engaged in the issue!
What do you love the most about your job?
I love studying environmental science, and particularly the marine side of it all. I find the field so dynamic with so many exciting and topical research being published every day. Marine science is definitely having a bit of a ‘moment’ with the production of Blue Planet 2 and focus on marine plastic pollution in research, government policy and general popular culture. I really hope it continues as people are beginning to realise how important these ecosystems are to the planet and also, more selfishly, human wellbeing.
I love that as a student studying this topic, the possibilities seem endless. Whether I want to do further research into anything from marine litter, ocean acidification to climate change or use my knowledge to communicate all this amazing science to the public, or advise local, national and global policy – all of these things and more are relevant to marine sciences.
How difficult was it to get where you are today?
I’ve been very lucky in my academic journey to date. I haven’t felt held back due to my gender at any point and this is down to the inspiring teachers, lecturers, supervisors and peers that I’ve been fortunate enough to work for and alongside.
Overcoming the stress of exams and coursework whether during GCSEs, A levels or University is a challenge a lot of people can relate to! I’ve never felt like I can just sail through exams without much work so I have always put a lot of hours into understanding the work and trying to get it right – and sometimes I’ve completely missed the mark as to what I should’ve been doing! Luckily I have had a great support system in my family, friends and University staff who has supported, guided and sometimes forced me to take a break and step back from the stress (a really important part!).
I think I have had quite a traditional path to where I am today (GCSE’s, A levels and now University) and am learning every day about the research industry and what it takes to work within marine science. The main thing so far has definitely been passion. I haven’t yet met a successful, and happy person who works within the marine science that isn’t inherently passionate about what they do (and a bit lucky) – whether that is researching, exploring, communicating, teaching etc.
What was the biggest obstacle in your way before your career reached where it is today? How did you overcome it?
Not comparing my success to other people’s. Throughout University it’s so easy to compare yourself and your grades to what others are getting. I think that sort of mind set is so unproductive and can really get in the way of what you are personally trying to achieve. It has been so important for me to consciously focus on myself, and in the process look after my own mental health, instead of comparing myself to others and often spreading myself to thin. The people you are comparing yourself to are on a completely different path to you with different challenges and goals so there shouldn’t really be any comparison at all! Lot’s of the opportunities that I have been able to take advantage of in the last couple of years had presented themselves after I decided to focus on what I really loved to do and not worrying about it not being ‘good’ or ‘significant’ enough.
What are you looking forward to the most in the future of marine science?
Like I said before, there is so much going on right now with new research being published every day and increasing numbers of the general public being engaged in marine sciences.
The way the world has responded to marine plastic pollution, and how many different sectors have come together to raise awareness and improve the situation for marine life has been amazing. I’d love to see this cooperation, enthusiasm and passion for other topics within marine sciences that are posing large threats to the ecosystem and the Earth as a whole such as climate change and ocean a.
It is a very exciting time and I can’t wait to hopefully have a future career in this field.
How do you think we can get more women involved within marine science?
By giving more women a platform to talk about science and how research has shaped and formed parts of their life without such an influence on how ‘high up’ they are on the academic ladder. All involvement in science should be celebrated from reading the science section of the news when you get the chance to being a professor of your topic at a University. All these paves the way for more amazing females in science and draw more and more people in!
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring female marine scientists?
I feel like I am still an aspiring scientist, so don’t feel very qualified to give much advice! I guess my main tip would be get as much experience as possible and talk to as many people in your chosen field as possible. Any experience is valuable whether it is professional work experience placements, practical conservation work, volunteering with local NGOs or even campaigning yourself about a topic that you’re passionate about!
Twitter is such a useful (and completely free!) tool to follow and interact with fellow students and scientists within your field. Don’t be afraid to start some conversations and contribute to discussions – it’s a great way to get to know what is going on in the world of marine science and maybe you’ll find an opportunity or two along the way!
In one sentence, why do you think a career within marine science is a great career option?
In such an exciting and ever developing field the possibilities seem endless as to where you could take your career. There is so much we don’t know about the marine world and it’s so important to our well being. It also encompasses so much from physics, chemistry, biology, maths and earth science to sociology and economics.
Social Media Links
Website (No Straw Stand): https://nostrawstand.com/
I would like to give a massive thank you to Nia Jones 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 and the biography belong to Nia Jones. All photographs have been used with the permission of Nia Jones.