26 August 2007

How does one become a dolphin researcher?

My suggestion is to come up with reasonably clear ideas about what you want to do, where and how. Ideally, one should aim to something felt as important, and also feasible based on one’s skills and existing opportunities.

I started working on cetaceans by volunteering on board oceanographic research vessels - looking for dorsal fins and flukes during the day and working in the wet lab during the night. Then I used my father’s small inflatable boat to start a study on dolphins around Losinj, Croatia. Eventually, this became the longest-running study of bottlenose dolphins in the Mediterranean.

Don’t miss opportunities to make experience. You may try to participate in some field or lab activity, doing work as close to your interests as possible to gain practical experience on that particular subject. Find out what is the area where you do particularly well (this may include lab work, photography, statistics or even management, environmental policy, public awareness). If you ‘feel good’ doing something and have a sense of being ‘at home’ whenever you do that, then you may have found your own specialty. Go for it, and try to develop a specific project or an interesting proposal to motivate other people and attract funding.

Do not rely too much on letters and CVs. Try to meet the relevant people in person, at their offices or even in the field. Attend marine mammal and marine conservation conferences, visit various institutes and NGOs. Show that your choice of working with a person or organization is motivated and based on some kind of ‘affinity’.

Courses organized by Tethys (www.tethys.org) can be a reasonable first step for gaining basic experience, knowing how you feel on a boat or at a field station, chat with researchers and possibly identify your areas of interest. You may consider trying different experiences and research groups before deciding what works best for you. In any case, do not put everything in somebody else’s hands: the choice should be yours.

As a general rule, you have better chances of success if you do something based on enthusiasm and passion, and you do not lose sight of your goals along the way.

Giovanni Bearzi

Useful link:
SMM - Strategies for Pursuing a Career in Marine Mammal Science

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