Ina Lefering is a post-doctoral researcher in the Marine Optics and Remote Sensing Group at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. She came to the group in 2012 to do an internship during her undergraduate degree in Maritime Technology at the University of Applied Science Bremerhaven, Germany and returned in 2013 to do a PhD working on the improvement of optical measurement techniques. Ina is also currently part of the Arctic PRIZE project looking into changes in Arctic productivity as a result of retreating sea ice.
Briefly describe your current work and your research.
I study how sunlight interacts with the ocean. I am interested in everything in the water that influences light underwater – phytoplankton (microalgae), dissolved organic matter, sediments etc. and how it changes the light field and much light available to marine life at different depths. I use a variety of optical sensors and instruments, which can be mounted on different platforms from autonomous robots and ships to satellites.
A large part of my fieldwork aims to collect in situ data (such as absorption and scattering spectra) that will help us to interpret satellite remote sensing data correctly. In my current project, I am investigating how climate change and associated retreating/thinning sea ice will affect the amount of light entering the Arctic Ocean. We currently do not know if more light will result in more or less phytoplankton growth, the basis for the entire Arctic food web.
What do you love the most about your job?
I love that my job helps me to understand our magnificent planet & its nature better – even if it is just a tiny part of it. I have always loved being at, in, or on the sea and contributing to its conservation drives me on a daily basis.
I also really enjoy the variability of the job: geeky coding in the office, meeting fascinating people at conferences, and the privilege to visit some of the most remote & beautiful places in the world.
How difficult was it to get where you are today?
I do not feel like it was exceptionally difficult to get to where I am now. I also do not think it is particularly special and believe that everybody could do it if they set their mind to it. In my opinion, that is all it takes – determination plus a lot of patience and perseverance. I have always worked and studied hard but never felt like I had to work harder because I am a woman.
I do think, however, that the academic & research environment in general is very challenging when you want to have a family and, although this is true for both men and women, this has a stronger impact on a mother’s life compared to the father.
What was the biggest obstacle in your way before your career reached where it is today? How did you overcome it?
I went through a phase of depression during my PhD. I had to fight new battles and overcome new challenges. It was tough and exhausting but through this period the thing that kept me going was work. My job did not only fill my days and distract me but it was the one thing I was proud of and felt reasonably good at.
What are you looking forward to the most in the future of marine science?
I hope I will live to see the day when the world will realise how important it is to protect our oceans (& our entire planet) and that marine science provides the best foundation of getting it right. I want to see successful protection efforts on a large scale.
How do you think we can get more women involved within marine science?
Leaving aside the option of changing the employment situation in academia, I’d say career talks and networking events! I have always found inspiration and motivation in talking to other scientists (male and female). It is great to see that there is not a single ‘right’ path to work in marine science and reassuring to know that it can sometimes take time until you find your place. I am fascinated by the fact that there is a job for everyone and every personality – communicators, managers, politicians, the outdoorsy type, modellers, technicians, biologists, physicists, …
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring female marine scientists?
Seize every opportunity you are given. You will learn from different experiences and by trying new things. Talk and listen to your mentors, they have much valuable experience and I have never been refused advice.
In one sentence, why do you think a career within marine science is a great career option?
Marine science is very dynamic and there is space to develop, change direction and discover new interests throughout your career – you can truly make it your own.
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I would like to give a massive thank you to Ina Lefering 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 Ina Lefering. All photographs have been used with the permission of Ina Lefering and are credited to Dr. Callum Whyte.