A little bit about me...
I was obviously always destined to work in the ocean, as I've looked so comfortable being in and around it from the age of about 4 (see below for evidence). I always enjoy being in nature and trying to figure out what all the creatures were doing but sadly I didn't really know Marine Biology was even a job until I was about 18 when I did the obligatory "gap year". My "gap year" took me to Borneo, which is a very cool place, if you haven't been there, you should. I chose Borneo because my mum told me the place I was going to be staying in (a longhouse on the beach) looked much like the house she was born in, in Malaysia. Part Asian you say? Yes I know, you couldn't tell by looking at me, but I am in fact 1/4 Asian; sadly the dye ran out a little in my family. Anyway back to Borneo; I went to the Northern tip of the island with an NGO back in 2003. Here I learnt to dive, with the British Sub-aqua club BSAC (not PADI I'd like to stress), and to ID the fish (by sketching them in a notebook), corals, invertebrates and algae etc so that we could survey the reefs. We also worked closely with the local kampong (village) to teach the children English and assess their catch and help develop a way to provide a long-term solution to the recent dramatic decline in their catch. Unfortunately, the main reason for them observing this drop was because of increased pressure from external fishing operations, which included bombing of the reefs to collect the fish. Quite excitingly though all of this work is now contributing to the development of the Tun Mustapha Marine park.
Figure 1. (left) My brother and I forming classic British photo stances at a beach in the South of England with the white cliffs of Dover in the backround and (right) a picture of my brother in our Knight Rider car and my Nan holding me up in her back garden.
I learnt a great many things in Borneo, and maybe I did "find myself" a little there, although I wasn't really aware of this until I started my psychology degree at the University of Wales, Bangor, which I had planned on doing before I gallivanted off to Malaysia for a year. During the course I unfortunately/fortunately found I didn't really want to study humans any more, I wanted to study the oceans! So a week before I started my second year, after discussions with my awesome folks, I started all over again with a Joint Honours degree in Marine Biology and Zoology also at Bangor, which thankfully also has an excellent Ocean Sciences department.
I met some amazing people in Bangor, forming some very important lifelong friendships and had a wonderful time exploring the mountain, hills and beaches that form the ruggedly beautiful landscape of North Wales. I never managed to dive there, not for the lack of trying, but I did get to climb a lot, and after 3 years of intense studying and a thesis project I completed my degree with a first class honours, mostly because I really loved the practical aspects of the syllabus. I then decided to do a Masters course and got a place on the prestigious Marine Environmental Protection course with funding. At the same time I also wanted to travel and had always wanted to go to New Zealand, so I contacted the course coordinator for the Marine Conservation Masters at Victoria University of Wellington and inquired about funding. Unfortunately, like most countries, being foreign and wanting to do a masters abroad means paying international fees and there were no scholarships that would cover this. However, there are scholarships available for the PhD applicants and he had a project lined up to work on sponges in Palmyra Atoll. 1) I love invertebrates and 2) I love diving in cool places 3) I'd get to live in New Zealand. It was a no brainer, the only downside was the deadline for the scholarship application was the only 1 week away. I don't think I've scrambled so fast (and paid so much to mail an envelope (an online application wasn't sufficient)), but it was completely worth it and led me onto me getting my PhD, which I'll go into further on the next page.