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Case Study: Nina da Rocha

Personal details
Degree:Biology Profile picture
School(s): School of Biology
Year of Graduation:Jun-2017
National of: Sweden
Employment details
Organisation: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Job title: Albatross Task Force Project Officer
Occupational Sector: Science Research
What has been your route to getting your current position?

During my first year I was the Biodiversity Intern for Transition St Andrews. This was a new position at the time and involved doing researching and reporting on biodiversity-related projects other Transition groups were doing across the world and helping coordinate biodiversity surveys on campus.

Between my 1st and 2nd year I spent the summer (May-Sep) interning with CIMA Research Foundation in Italy as a Marine Mammal Observer. I worked on a research vessel in the Mediterranean collecting data on whale and dolphin species and helping with data entry and processing. This was an unpaid position that I funded myself.

Between my 2nd and 3rd year I worked for Projeto TAMAR – a turtle conservation NGO in Brazil. I worked with public outreach, educational awareness campaigns, population monitoring and turtle rehabilitation. I managed to get some funding to cover my travel expenses by becoming a Rector’s scholar and obtaining an Inspire grant from Equate Scotland.

In the summer between my 3rd and 4th year I volunteered at the Red Cross Nordic United World College Summer School, where I helped coordinate extra-curricular activities. Although this was not biology related, it helped further strengthen my communication and leadership skills.

I was looking for conservation-related jobs worldwide, using relevant websites and resources provided by the University of St Andrews Careers Centre. I applied for many different roles (often with the same organisations) and was called to quite a few interviews. Although this was good practice, it was frustrating to constantly get positive feedback but be told that I did not have enough relevant experience. But I just kept applying for things (even if I thought I wouldn’t get them) and eventually I found a perfect match!

What does your job involve ?
I work as part of the BirdLife International Marine Programme, which is hosted by the RSPB. My role is to support the Albatross Task Force team achieve its target of reducing seabird bycatch by 80% in priority fisheries in South America and Southern Africa. This entails a whole lot of different things, from writing project reports to running our social media accounts!
What are the best bits of your job ?
I get to use my language skills everyday, travel to South America and Africa regularly, work with really inspiring people and actually contribute to saving the amazing albatross!

My role is to support the projects in-country teams and I therefore get to communicate with my South American colleagues in Spanish and Portuguese on a daily basis by email and phone – which I absolutely love!

I love working with a variety of people, including researchers, conservationists, policy makers, educational outreach teams, fundraisers, intergovernmental organisations and national governments. 

I have a very flexible work schedule (37.5 hours/week), work with great and passionate people and can work from home too!

Why were you successful?
The fact that I got so much international fieldwork experience during my studies and could apply my language skills to this particular post definitely contributed to me getting the job! But also that I had travelled/lived in relevant parts of the world and could understand the cultural, social and political context of the countries the project operates in.
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
Statistics, scientific writing and science communication (outreach).

I am involved in the production of some scientific publications relating to the seabird bycatch estimates in different fishing fleets.

What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?
Get as much experience as you can – doing a variety of things (not only research/internships in your field). Lots of people with very similar experiences will be applying to the same jobs as you. Think about what can make you stand out and how you can link your career to other skills you may have picked up throughout life. For me that was my languages, but it could be a variety of other things too! Most of all – please don’t give up. Apply for jobs and opportunities even if it seems like a stretch and you are certain you will not get it. Also don’t be too picky – obviously apply for things you are interested in but do not limit yourself too much to a very specific area within your field. Be willing to do something a bit different for a while, in order to help you reach your goal.