Jess Bone is a current Master of Research student at Bournemouth University, having completed her undergraduate degree in Marine Ecology and Conservation (Hons). Jess was fortunate enough to access exclusive areas of lagoon habitat not normally open to the public for her undergraduate dissertation and her work won her the Jack Parsons award for local research within her university. Jess progressed onto a Masters of Research following the fun she had with her undergrad research, again focusing on lagoons within Poole Harbour and their benthic invertebrate ecology.
Briefly describe your current work and your research.
My current job is as Engagement Supervisor at the visitor centre for the Poole-based Birds of Poole Harbour charity. It’s predominantly raising awareness about the avian biodiversity of the harbour, where you can go to see some of the rarer and charismatic species, and telling people about our flagship projects such as our osprey translocation project. I also manage their Facebook page and write blogs and newsletters. My research looks at the main variables that determine the spatial distribution of benthic fauna in a tidally restricted lagoon, with special reference to the cryptic starlet sea anemone Nematostella vectensis.
What do you love the most about your job?
I have only recently started this July so everything is still very fresh and exciting, but I don’t see it slowing down. They are a growing charity and this is a new role so its fun having the opportunity to develop it and have relatively free reign to be creative with our online presence and write about local science in an accessible way. I’ve been lucky enough to visit their osprey chicks as part of their translocation project and I spent an evening with Chris Packham as part of his Bioblitz campaign. It feels great to be part of something that is well connected and full of real unadulterated passion – it means we get the word out there about birds and we get projects, conservation and science done.
How difficult was it to get where you are today?
I didn’t leave school with a certain idea of knowing what I wanted to do and I felt so much pressure to have decided by the end of A levels so I worked in care homes and hospitals for a few years before I settled on applying to study Marine Ecology. My A levels weren’t the best so I settled for a Foundation degree with lower grade requirements with the view to topping it up to a full Bachelors later on. The first two years felt okay in terms of difficulty; I was a high achiever and it felt good to be back in the swing of feeling confident in my academic ability.
In the top-up year, I moved from a partner college to Bournemouth University and it was the first time they’d run this top-up year for my Foundation degree to become a full Bachelors. It was chaotic and life has a funny way of making things more challenging; my best friend passed away before the first week of lectures for my final year and instead of deferring I just put my blinkers on and ploughed on. My car broke down, I had just moved house and the student house was borderline dilapidated. I fell out with two of my housemates. My original dissertation plans fell through. I felt very lost and I could tell I was starting to unravel. I poured everything I had into my studies and my coursework. I absolutely had to finish on a high because I felt like everything else was falling apart. I started writing up my dissertation way before my course mates, I didn’t really leave the house much. I got the highest grade in my entire degree for that dissertation which secured me a first overall. Because marine biology is so competitive there is this feeling that if you slow down or take a step out for a second, someone better will come along and somehow you will become obsolete so even in the midst of grief and misfortune, I was still trying to be the best student and candidate.
I went straight into my Master of Research after my undergrad, although in hindsight I should have taken a year out to catch my breath! It’s been difficult to get myself back on an even keel mental health wise but I’m getting there. I made a concerted effort to go to conferences and basically start advertising myself, my research and my potential. In marine biology its not just your grades, but who you know (just to make it harder!). I networked as hard as I could, making myself known among the local marine biologists.
The job I have today came up on my Facebook feed a couple of hours after I had balled my eyes out looking at ecologist jobs, realising that I was still woefully underqualified even after two degrees. It just felt right. I knew the manager of the visitor centre as I had occasionally helped her out with fieldwork and social media management for her charity SharkStuff and she encouraged me to apply and talked to the charity trustees – one of which had seen my presentation at a conference and really liked it. I was really chuffed with that and still am – the grafting had paid off and things had clicked into place. Doesn’t mean I can slow down though!
What was the biggest obstacle in your way before your career reached where it is today? How did you overcome it?
Going back to the start of my final year at uni when everything went a bit pear shaped, my mental health really did take a hit and I developed moderate anxiety. It’s made it very difficult to be confident in my abilities, my research, my ideas and doing things like oral presentations at conferences. I doubt myself constantly, something I think is called imposter syndrome – where you feel like people have you mistaken. My thesis supervisor thinks highly of me yet part of me still feels like a bewildered first year in the wrong meeting. I have to remind myself that I got a first, and won an award for my undergrad dissertation, that I’ve given presentations that were good enough to get me an awesome job. I’m lucky that everyone who works at Birds of Poole Harbour really encourages new ideas and plans, and it makes me feel valued and part of something. I’m hoping it will develop my self-confidence – I already feel more like a scientist there than I have ever felt before!
With my anxiety, I let it start to take over to the point that it was impacting my ability to give presentations and be the best version of myself and letting it be my excuse, which wasn’t OK. So if this is something you struggle with, do seek help because it won’t go away easily or in a timely fashion on its own.
What are you looking forward to the most in the future of marine science?
I’m really looking forward to the future of marine conservation in the UK. We have such a biodiverse coastline and ocean that so few people appreciate or are even aware of! As we leave the EU, I hope we take the opportunity to improve upon EU legislation protecting our seas.
How do you think we can get more women involved within marine science?
I think some women have similar self-confidence issues and that feeling of not being good enough or belonging. Unfortunately, I have seen occasions where older male biologists have been quite unkind to highly esteemed female marine biologists – these incredibly accomplished and intelligent women and they’ve been really knocked by their comments and I just think that’s crazy! It’s crazy some people think its okay to behave like that when, ultimately, we’re working towards the same goal – why be so unprofessional when you could be creating important links or having constructive conversations? And its devastating that we still feel inadequate enough to be hurt by that kind of thing when we have so much evidence to prove our competency. Sexism is alive and well in this industry, so I think its important to really encourage and befriend young female marine biologists. Its important to look out for each other and give one another opportunities, creating a nurturing environment that they will flourish in. Its shouldn’t be an exclusive club – the ocean needs all the help it can get!
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring female marine scientists?
Believe you can do it. Don’t limit yourself. I am still AMAZED I got where I am and I’m not even at my end goal yet! Oh, and don’t think you have a stupid question – I always stopped myself from asking a question in case it made me look dumb. Then I still felt dumb because I didn’t know the answer! Be inquisitive, be kind, and believe in yourself.
In one sentence, why do you think a career within marine science is a great career option?
There are almost unlimited options and routes and that is just so exciting – I mean, the ocean is a vast place. It is diverse enough that everyone can find their niche. I personally love coastal ecology because it’s a turbulent and ever-changing environment and one of the most threatened ocean ecosystems because of sea-level rise and urban development. The ecology is absolutely fascinating and made all the more complicated because of its interactions with the terrestrial environment.
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I would like to give a massive thank you to Jess Bone 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 and the biography belong to Jess Bone. All photographs have been used with the permission of Jess Bone.