STEM Up (S2): Laura McConnell


Hello, my name is Laura and I am a Marine Biology student at University of Portsmouth. I completed my foundation degree (FdSc) in Marine Ecology and Conservation at University Centre Sparsholt in Winchester this past June. I have recently moved down to Portsmouth to do a top up year which will give me a full honors BSc degree in Marine Biology. I have always loved being by the coast, whether it be rock pooling, bodyboarding, going on boat trips or simply swimming. I soon realized that studying the ocean would be my dream, however I never thought I would have the grades or intelligence to do it. However, by doing a foundation degree I was able to find a way into my dream field where I originally thought I would never have the chance.

1. How would you describe your role?

Currently I am a University student, so I am still studying for my bachelor’s degree. As I am in my final year, I am working on my final year project which involves doing independent research on a chosen subject and writing a scientific paper about the subject discussing what you have found. The research that I will be looking at focuses on dolphin identification and analyzing dolphins dorsal fin scars to explore not only the origins of the scars but if there are patterns in which they occur. The sorts of patterns I will be looking into may include “Do dolphins get more scars at certain times of the year?”, “Do male dolphins have more scars than female dolphins?” and “Are younger dolphins more likely to get scars than older dolphins?”. Although I am yet to start my research, I have a good understanding of these focuses and can’t wait to see what I find out.

2. What made you choose this STEM discipline? Were you inspired by someone?

I actually didn’t know what STEM was until I started university. Since discovering what STEM was, I realized that women are very underrepresented and there are far too many people out there that think that women can’t/are unable to have a job in STEM discipline.

I do have some massive inspirations that helped me realize that Marine Biology was something that I wanted to pursue. Dr. Sylvia Earle is my biggest inspiration and a woman I would love to meet. Sylvia is a Marine Biologist and oceanographer who is now 85 and has spent her life researching the oceans and raising awareness for the need of conservation. She has a charity called Mission Blue (which is also the name of her Netflix documentary which I thoroughly recommend everyone to watch) which helps to create ‘Hope spots’ of marine protected areas. She has also done many talks around the world, including one for TED which is about 10 minutes long and a must watch.

3. What’s the best way to enter your field? What kind of experience or skills should one possess to build a successful career in the same?

In terms of school to be able to study marine biology at university you want to make sure you have focused your studies at school to some of the sciences. Biology, Geography and Maths are pretty useful to have; however, they are not always necessary depending on where you want to study but will give you a good head start.

Its always good to try and get volunteer work either before or whilst you’re studying for your degree. If you live near the coast you may be able to organize local beach clean ups, this will show that you are driven and organized. There may also be local rescue centers for animals such as seals who may take volunteers. Otherwise any sort of aquarium, pet shop, conservation or wildlife organization will be beneficial.

4. What are some cool things that people in your profession work on?

There are so many amazing things going on in Marine Biology at the moment. There are companies that are growing and replanting corals to help restore coral reefs that have been affected by climate change. There are companies who are tagging marine animals such as sharks and turtles in order to be able to track and research their patterns in terms of migration, feeding and reproduction. Restoring seagrass beds, dealing with oil spills, research in laboratories in microbiology, diving research and much more.

5. What keeps you going in your research? What’s next for your career?

I am hoping to go on to do a masters in either Marine Biology, Marine Ecology and Conservation or Marine Mammal science once I have completed my BSc. After this I hope to be able to travel the world and do research and raise awareness for conservation of the oceans.

6. What do you think can help get girls into STEM?

I honestly think social networking can be a real help. Since starting my marine biology Instagram account, I have met so many amazing women in STEM and in my field specifically. It can be so useful to know other people in the field. Everyone has their own areas and each friend you make will be able to give you tips and tricks on certain things whether it be diving centers/sites in a certain country, sustainability and eco friendly tips, best universities for masters degrees, best places to find volunteer work and books/journals/papers to read. Once you have a community of other women in STEM you feel unstoppable and supported and motivated to keep pushing and inspiring more women to join STEM disciplines.

7. What message would you like to give to our young readers?

Don’t let other people put down your dreams. If you want something enough and you work hard enough you will be able to do anything. It is your life and you are the one that has to live it so you can’t let people tell you what you can and can’t do.

Thank you for reading our first STEM Up interview of Season 2! To know more about what Laura is up to, follow her journey at @seawithme_

Follow us on Instagram for more women in STEM interviews at codejammies

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