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Townsville Campus,
James Cook University

PhD in Marine Biology at James Cook University
and the Australian Institute of Marine Science
Shelley L. Anthony


Background: I have wanted to be a marine biologist since I was 6 years old and saw the ocean for the first time. I read every book about marine animals that I could get my hands on. My greatest wish was that I would discover a new species and have it named after me (and it still is!). When I got to university I took a wide variety of classes in biology, zoology, and anything to do with aquatic or marine systems.

I then went on to get a Master’s Degree in Marine Science, and worked at a marine field station in the Bahamas. More recently I worked at various public aquariums before moving to Australia and becoming an aquarist at ReefHQ. I am now working on my PhD in Marine Biology at James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, studying coral disease and other factors that affect coral survival in captivity.

My advice for students who are interested in marine science:

  • Read lots of books about the ocean, marine animals, etc.
  • Watch television documentaries about the ocean and current scientific research, and try to figure out what interests you the most. Don’t worry if you are interested in a lot of different things. You may also be surprised to discover that most marine scientists do not just “swim with dolphins”.
  • When you go to university, try to take a wide variety of classes. In the past, scientists tended to focus on a specific type of animal or plant, but we are now realizing that everything in the ocean is connected or interdependent in some way. It is important to understand the whole system, not just small parts.
  • If you want to do research, that generally means doing a postgraduate degree. This can take a lot of preparation, and you do have to have good grades. In addition, you should do your homework; determine what kind of research you want to do, find out who does that kind of research and where, and contact them about becoming a student in their group. (Do this at least a year before you graduate since there is a lot of competition.)
  • Work experience is extremely important for your résumé. A lot of people can have good grades, but work experience will give you the edge. This can mean volunteer work at an aquarium or other place that involves marine life (Sea World), assisting researchers in a laboratory or in the field, helping out with turtle or dugong conservation groups, or taking field classes at university. You should be able to demonstrate that you can work well with others on a team project.
  • Additional skills should include: boating license, SCUBA certificate, computer literacy.

My advice for teachers on how to develop student interest in marine science:

  • Have books and other reading materials available in your classroom for students to borrow videos of documentaries or borrow underwater footage from local researchers. Deep-sea discovery can be especially exciting to watch.
  • Invite local scientists to come to your classroom and talk about their work, and why they do it.
  • If you live near the ocean (or any aquatic or marine system), organise a class field trip. Take along identification guides and discuss the overall ecosystem.
  • Encourage students to fulfil the recommendations listed for them above.
From MESA Undercurrents July 2003
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