Ilaria Stollberg, 2022 alumni, now a PhD student in Tasmania, shares her experiences on the BSc (Hons) Marine Science UHI programme in Oban and highlights the invaluable education and support she received from SAMS.
Tell us about where you are now since graduating in 2022:
Six months after graduation I moved to Tasmania, a wonderful little island in the “Roaring Fourties” of the Southern Ocean – the ideal location for a PhD in Antarctic ecosystem modelling! My days are spent calibrating an end-to-end model which simulates all layers of an ecosystem, from oceanic currents and sea ice biogeochemistry up to large predators, fisheries, economics, and their response to climate change.
How did your undergraduate experience at SAMS contribute to your personal and professional development?
SAMS gave me an all-round, comprehensive education that now allows me to move across disciplines and be comfortable in very different fields, from molecular biology to physical modelling. Having met scientists and researchers involved in all kinds of science at all levels, I feel confident in reaching out to experts when I need help – a skill that isn’t taught in the classroom but comes from being supported by a welcoming community like SAMS.
Looking back, what was your favourite part about being at SAMS?
I could say something about professional and research skills, but my favourite moments at SAMS were those where I realised just how passionate the students and staff are about ocean science and conservation. Coffees shared over heated discussions on marine plastics, translating science into art, the excitement and awe when spotting wrasse and seals during lunchbreak swims…
What parts of your marine science journey through education and since graduating have you found most challenging?
Definitely the frustration of translating science into policy and action. I sometimes feel like I am never doing enough to help protect the global Ocean, but being surrounded by like-minded, passionate people has given me a more constructive perspective: no matter where we go and what we do, every small action counts.
Based on your experience, do you have any advice for future students who are interested in applying to SAMS and a career in marine science?
My heart goes out to the first-generation university students who often miss out on opportunities, just because they don’t have ‘internal’ guidance! Look up the ‘hidden curriculum’, try to get involved in research throughout your undergraduate. Ask other students, lecturers, and staff for advice; don’t feel discouraged if you don’t know how to address an email to a senior researcher (we have all been there – get a friend to hit that send button). Don’t be afraid to break the silence and ask questions!
What do you like most about your current job/course/experience?
The independence to lead my project towards the destination I am most interested in, and to take it in all kinds of places! Right now, I am learning about physical models to supplement my own ecosystem model – an unplanned stop in my project’s journey. At the same time, I am talking to penguin and seal experts to understand how the physical environment affects animal movements and migration. Every day is different and exciting!
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I have too many answers to this question – I see myself working in ecosystem modelling in all kinds of places, or supporting teams developing their own model for different regions. I would like to become involved in policy, for example by providing scientific support to decision-makers, or working in an interdisciplinary team to inform conservation. In any case, marine science is my home.