Diver

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Want a career in marine biology? See how Chris did just that

Want a career in marine biology? See how Chris did just that

Chris Battershill, Professor and Chair, Coastal Science University of Waikato

What did you want to be when you were 16?
Couldn't decide between being a medical doctor or a marine biologist.

What did you end up doing when you left school?
Started medical school but switched to Marine Biology as I missed the sea and diving.

Describe a day in your life at work:
Plan the days priorities with staff, prepare lectures, hunt some funding, respond to any emergencies like oil spills or snakes in the harbour, try and get some research in (diving to collect sponges and seaweeds for their chemistry - antibiotics or athlete supplements ..new areas of research for NZ), correspond with colleagues both in NZ and elsewhere, host a visitor from NZ or internationally, and in the evenings sometimes have skype meetings with colleagues in China or Germany. If Orca's are in the harbour, drop everything and go and have a look..

Why do you love your job/career?
Because in this country you can make a BIG difference. Research and discovery are exciting and addictive. Training the new leaders in science and innovation for our country is the best. They very quickly become the stars!

How did you get into your career?
A love of  the sea, a love for improving things for people (sustainable seafood, conservation, health), but most importantly, with the help and mentorship of a few very important people along the way: a primary school teacher in south Auckland who had a farm and took us to see how many species of weeds we could find in an hour...taught us to LOOK; a secondary school teacher who was a wizard in biology and made it fun, Bill Ballantine who lead NZ's marine conservation drive from way back, and who gave me a shot at working at the Leigh Marine Lab even though I was still at school, and most importantly my higher degree supervisor Prof Patricia Bergquist, world renown sponge expert, terrified me as she was ruthless in demanding the best, but showed me that you could do anything and opened up the doors of the world of opportunity. I hasten to add, I was not the worlds best student.. very average, but once you can see where you can make a difference, then anything is possible.

What qualifications did you study?
Accounting, Chemistry, Biology and Physics at school as I didn't know what I really wanted to do later. Then I did a bit of Medicine as I wanted to help people, but I couldn't resist the pull of the sea so I went to Marine Biology, even though careers advisors at the time said there were no jobs in it. I got a scholarship through Pat Bergquist (above) to get into oil pollution and the Maui oil drilling program in Taranaki, where I worked for a bit before returning to University to complete my PhD. I got a scholarship in Sponge Ecology and Chemical Ecology in a drug discovery program...so ended up with the perfect combination of medicine (new drugs) from the sea. 

Do you have any advice for getting into your sector?
Don't listen to anyone who says you can't do something. Persevere. Be open to advice, but follow what you believe in. Make friends. Have fun. I don't need to say work hard, because you automatically will, seeing as it's YOUR vision you are fulfilling.

What do you wish you had done differently?
Nothing. There are no wrong turns... my career has taken many forms, lived in many places, made me many many friends. I could have done a bit more swat at school, but hey, with passion, mentorship and friends..you can make it from any starting point.

What would you say to your teenage self about defining your future?
Hang on for the ride! It's going to be a blast!

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See how Chris became a science professor

Chris Battershill is a Professor and Chair at the Coastal Science University of Waikato. Read Chris's career journey and get some great advice and career insights…