Ocean Minds presents Rachel Louise Gunn
Profession: PhD researcher
Organisation: Lancaster University
I am inspired by how strong minded Rachel is, she has a clear career path in mind and is determined to achieve her goals. She is incredibly friendly, reliable and fun to work with. I also love that she is continually finding creative ways to share her incredible work.
1. How did we meet?
We first met when we were both on an Operation Wallacea expedition in Utila, Honduras in 2015. We then both worked at the same site again as staff in 2018!
2. What is one memorable ocean moment from our time together?
I have so many great memories from working together on Utila, from trying to organise busy dive boats, to quiz nights at the beach bar! It can be stressful working in the field, especially when you are responsible for novice divers, so doing it with like minded people (like you!) makes it so much more fun!
3. What encouraged you to purse a career in marine biology/conservation?
I fell in love with the Ocean when I learned to dive in 2015. At the time, I was halfway through a degree in Zoology. I attended a lecture on invasive lionfish and decided that I wanted to pursue marine biology. I applied for masters in marine biology, and ended up doing my thesis on invasive lionfish out in the Cayman Islands!
4. How did you land your current job?
I actually found my PhD on a conference app! After I finished my masters, I presented my thesis at the European Coral Reef Symposium (ECRS) in 2017. It was a huge coral reef conference, and researchers could post available PhD positions on the conference app. I saw my now project advertised there, went home and applied, got an interview, and now I am in my third year!
5. What is it about your role that makes you feel like you are truly making a
My supervisor and lab group are hugely progressive as both people and scientists. In our weekly meetings, we regularly discuss ‘difficult conversations’ such as gender and racial inequality in academia. Having conversations like this with like minded people means I feel able to fully engage in academia with an open mind, which is massively important in todays society. I am also passionate about science communication and outreach, and throughout my PhD, I have been given multiple opportunities to engage in work and activities outside of my core research project. For example, I have teaching responsibilities, with my supervisor allowing me to co-supervise some of her undergraduate dissertation students. For me, this is massively rewarding, because I can help people who want to pursue marine biology and are in the same position, I was a few years ago.
6. What advice would you give to aspiring ocean warriors?
Get as much experience as possible! Whilst overseas expeditions to coral reefs can be expensive, there are so many other opportunities you can engage in closer to home! There are loads of marine conservation volunteer programmes out there. In my experience, when it comes to applying for jobs in marine ecology/conservation, experience counts just as much as your education background, if not more!
7. What has been your most unforgettable experience in the ocean and why?
I was lucky enough to be part of a research team on an expedition to the Chagos archipelago. It was amazing to experience such a remote reef ecosystem, and I saw my first Manta Ray!
8. Who has inspired you to achieve your goals?
There are so many people that have inspired me, that it's hard to just name a few! My lab group, and the achievements of the people in the group, are a huge inspiration. But then there are so many others as well!
9. What do you hope to achieve in the future?
Currently, I am working on getting a couple of my PhD chapters published, so I am hoping to have my first ‘first author’ publication soon! Outside of my PhD, I am working on a couple of science outreach projects, which I am excited to get up and running ASAP.
During the first lockdown, I was looking for ways I could still engage in science communication and outreach. An advertisement went around my university asking for people to be a part of a YouTube live series, talking about their work. I applied and a couple of weeks later I was interviewed by Patrick Ayree, a BBC wildlife presenter, live on YouTube! It felt great to be able to reach people and communicate science, especially at a time when everyone was stuck at home.
Link to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3NZEWp3t9s&t=92s
To find out more about Rachel and her research head over to her website!