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22/6/2022

FROM SEA STARS TO SEEING STARS: Part 3

FROM SEA STARS TO SEEING STARS: Part 3

SIX LIFE LESSONS LEARNT ON MY QUEST TO MERGE THE MARINE AND SPACE SCIENCES: Part 3 of 3

Marine Biologist, PADI Divemaster, and human spaceflight aficionado Jenn Thomson calls herself an ‘Aspiring Ocean Astronaut’. In the concluding part of this three-part series, she shares further life lessons, learned through the pursuit of merging her sea-to-space passions… 

Of course, it wasn’t all plain sailing, for we all know that there was a period where most of the world was landlocked, and scuba diving activities were halted for many months. 

Life Lesson 5- Space Days: 

Ring that CEO. You have nothing to lose.

It was the spring of 2020, and I was studying MSc Marine Ecosystems Management at the University of St Andrews (actually, declining an offer of MSc Space Physiology at Kings College London to do so, as I figured that having an actual marine qualification was a more prudent first step!). I was studying computational ecological modelling, GIS mapping, biotelemetry technology, and polar biology; indeed, designing my thesis to survey the waters around the Western Antarctic Peninsula. Of course, this all came to an abrupt halt when the covid pandemic shut down our Antarctica expedition a few days before our flights. It also meant packing up my life, fleeing across the Scottish border before we all locked down, and to completely start again with my Masters thesis in a few months.

St.Andrews, photo by myself!

Image Credit: Shutterstock

However, this may have brought about a silver lining, as I also had the time to 1) get Level 2 powerboaring certified, and 2) virtually join a summer research program at the European Space Agency.

Image Credit: NCL RYA Powerboating Team

In June 2020 I was selected as one of 20 students to work on the ESA/ELGRA Gravity-Related Summer School. For several weeks we were immersed in a plethora of lectures on microgravity, space sciences and astronaut experiences, and were mentored by leading ESA scientists. Of course, the majority of students were physicists and engineers – so I was definitely an unusual candidate as a marine biologist. 
 
Still, I ended up being the group lead on our project assignment. Our team developed and presented a project pitch (the RAD project: optimising limpet radula strength as a biomaterial in different gravitational platforms). And everyone left (Zoom) passionate about rock pooling!   

However, Covid also meant that there was time to check in with John Vickers of Blue Abyss. I first connected with him in 2018, after serendipitously searching the internet for future intersections of scuba diving exploration, extreme research, and space science. When I found out about Blue Abyss, it was like my own dream destination had suddenly become a reality. Then, it was a 20-seconds-of-courage phone call to explain who I was, and my passions. He told me the potential future job requirements, and I went away to develop my skillset. Thus, in covid times, I reached out again to explain how far I had come, and what I was working towards. From re-connecting, John could see that the phone call those years ago was genuine! So, thank you for your belief in me thus far! 

Hence, it pays to network, and you have nothing to lose from asking. After all, it brought me here today, writing this blog (onboard the OceanXplorer!), after 6 years of not giving up on the destination, whatever the journey. 

Life Lesson 6- Future Days: 

Journeys can ebb and flow like the ocean, and we need to ride them to experience life.

And so we have come full circle to the present. This mixture of conducting research in a suite of extreme environments, becoming a professional scuba diver, and having experiences of leading marine and space projects, has all accumulated into my pinnacle thus far; my current escapades onboard OceanXplorer! 

OceanX has completely expanded my life in ways that I have not imagined, with regards to networking, relationships, experiences, and opportunities! I will soon leave with great friends, memories, reunion plans, and a determination to come back as an OceanX team member! 

I also have many other dreams and aspirations: to become a scuba instructor, to experience parabolic flights, to travel, to work for OceanX, to pursue a PhD, to expand my science media presenting portfolio, and to work for Blue Abyss. I am not sure what the next immediate steps will be; but I have multiple potential journeys open, to make it to my final destination.

Image Credit: NASA

However, I am the living proof that indeed, if you try (in the words of Norman Vincent Peale) to “Reach for the moon; if you fail you will most certainly land amongst the stars!”.  

To all those who are wanting to pursue a career in marine or space sciences, amazing choice! It is competitive and stressful, yet ultimately rewarding and inspiring. Over this blog series, I have been compiling a list of the life lessons learnt upon my own journey. I hope this provides some reassurance or advice for all those who are struggling with decisions of universities, internships, or career paths.

Good luck! 

Headshot by Taj Howe

Six life lessons learnt, on my quest to merge the marine and space sciences: 

1. “Arts and Sciences do go together.” 

You do not need to study all of the sciences to be a scientist at university. Art subjects are just as valuable – if not more – as it gives you skills for the future such as essay writing, science communication, and creative thinking to solve problems!   

2. “Yes, you will have life regrets. So what? Find another path that goes in the same direction.” 

You cannot “make a mistake”. Finding out what you don’t want in life, is equally as important as finding out what you do like. A degree that is ‘not right’ can be changed, or you can mould your degree with pertinent optional modules! 

3. “Skills are transferable; be idiosyncratic, and feel free to change your mind.” 

So, you want to be a marine biologist, but have a terrestrial job? It does not matter! Knowledge can be learnt anytime, and if you can tag an elephant, you can tag a turtle. This unique-ness can make you stand out amongst employers too.

4. “You don’t have to study marine biology to be a marine biologist but learn to scuba dive from the outset.” 

The best marine biologists come from all backgrounds so they can present new and innovative ideas. You can be a chemist, zoologist, physicist, and transfer skills this way. Having said that – LEARN TO SCUBA DIVE. You will be inspired by the underwater world! 

5. “Ring that CEO. You have nothing to lose.” 

If you cannot find a suitable job / university internship at the present moment, there is no need to panic. Send an email or make a call to your dream – what is the worst that can happen? And it could change your life! 

6. “Journeys can ebb and flow like the ocean, and we need to ride them to experience life.” 

Keep an eye on the end goal, but enjoy the journey and its complexities. If one door closes, then you can take some time out to grow your other skills and something new will come along. And some changes may surprise you (and may turn into the best days of your life!). 

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Posted in UAV/ROV/Submersibles | Diving | Marine | People | Space

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