Dr. Julie Vercelloni is originally from South of France where she grew in the Mediterranean Sea (literally). She studied Marine Ecology during her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and statistics applied to coral reef ecology for her PhD.
Julie is currently working on diverse projects that look at combining state-of-the-art technologies and modern statistical methods to help understanding complex problems related to coral reef conservation. She is also a citizen science advocate, working on a new type of monitoring for the Great Barrier Reef. This project, named Virtual Reef Diver, was featured by ABC during the Australian Science week in August, and you can find more details about it here: https://www.scienceweek.net.au/virtual-reef-diver/.
Briefly describe your current work and your research.
I am working as a “hybrid” scientist at the edge between coral reef ecology and statistics. I am doing research on coral reefs to better understand the effects of climate change on corals using new types of data from state-of-the-art technologies such as artificial intelligence, underwater robots and satellites and, citizen science.
What do you love the most about your job?
I love the multi-disciplinary aspect of my job, from having the possibility to go scuba-diving in different reefs on the world for data collection to building my own statistical models for data analysing.
How difficult was it to get where you are today?
I am lucky to find the best mentors in the world that support me in the different stages of my early carrier researcher. With them, I was able to access to a network that allowed me to find my first and second post-docs without too much difficulties. I think that having mentors is one of the most important aspect for a successful academic carrier.
What was the biggest obstacle in your way before your career reached where it is today? How did you overcome it?
Being at the edge between two very different fields, the biggest obstacle in my way (still currently) is being able to communicate in both fields and make people understand what I am doing and why this is so important. I learnt statistics in a stat lab and it is difficult because marine scientist are not statisticians; they do not necessarily understand how a statistical model can be a very useful tool for coral reef management. I have to adjust my way of speaking according to the audience to being able that people understand. They are very few statisticians in the world of coral reefs and I found difficult to communicate (and publish!) when doing “not traditional” data analyses. There is a lot of education to do to make coral reef scientists understanding that there are much better statistical methods to use in our field. The new generation of scientists is training on using statistical software such as the R software to analyse the data but there is still a gap in their knowledge (no statistical background) to use the full potential of this tool. I found this contradictory in Ecology because data analyses using statistics is our tool to make Science, and I don’t understand why the ecologists are not interested to manage their stats better. It actually can be super cool!
What are you looking forward to the most in the future of marine science?
I am looking forward to see the coral-reef scientists using better the new methodologies for data analyses that are available for them – it’s not just about collecting the data but also being able to analyse them properly. Most of reef scientists still focus on the first part only, therefore the full potential of the data is generally lost.
How do you think we can get more women involved within marine science?
Hearing about women scientists with both successful professional carrier and family will inspire more women to be involved with marine science and Science in general. Showing that it is possible to be a scientist and a mother is very important. Women use to be on the side of Science because of this but I think this is slowly changing.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring female marine scientists?
Being innovative and looking for the empty niches. Marine Science is not just about diving anymore; you need to have multidisciplinary skills that will allow you to separate yourself from the other scientists.
In one sentence, why do you think a career within marine science is a great career option?
Climate change is a terrible monster for marine ecosystems but this is also an exciting time for being a marine scientist as there is an unprecedented challenge to overcome.
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I would like to give a massive thank you to Dr. Julie Vercelloni 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 Dr. Julie Vercelloni. All photographs have been used with the permission of Dr. Julie Vercelloni.