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Frequently Asked Questions with Dr. Alistair Dove.

These are targeted mostly at the many student inquiries I get for professional profiles or shadowing.

How did you get into your career path?

It was a combination of great preparation, hard work and no small amount of luck. I went to a very good marine science school, The University of Queensland, where I had terrific mentorship from my PhD advisor Dr. Tom Cribb and many others.  I had two extremely supportive parents, one of whom was a scientist too, which definitely helped.  After my PhD I thought I would go into academia, but instead I ended up at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium and I have had one foot in academic science and one in public aquariums ever since.  I like to stress to students the importance of serendipity and of keeping your peripheral vision open for interesting opportunities.  Some of the most gratifying experiences I have had were the result of entertaining wacky ideas I would have not considered had I been narrowly focused on my current subject.

What is an average day for you like?

It rather depends on whether I am in town or doing field work.  In town, it’s meetings meetings meetings, and a whole lot of email and computer work writing proposals, scientific manuscripts, analysing data, permit applications, expedition planning, doing media activities or talking with my talented team. In the field, however, I am often working on boats with local partners, diving or snorkeling with animals to conduct research or collect data, or meeting with local stakeholders for outreach and education activities.

How can I get to do what you do?

I recognise that I am extremely lucky to be able to study the wonders of marine life for a living.  Its hard to advise on how to reach this particular point, however, since luck played a significant part and there are relatively few positions doing research in public aquariums.  I always thought I would study parasites forever, so the fact that I spent many years studying lobsters and since then fishes, whale sharks, dolphins and manta rays has been a pleasant surprise to me too. The best advice I can give is to keep broad interests. Read widely, try to cultivate a 30,000ft view, and keep your options open. Get used to your own ignorance and embrace it as opportunities for self improvement. Develop a portable skillset that can be applied to any number of interesting biological questions. Oh, and go to conferences, the majority of jobs I have had came from personal connections made at conferences.

What should I study?

What you are passionate about! Well yes, obviously, but there are certainly specific skills that help. Study the philosophy and history of science, not just its content.  If I could go back to college I would study statistics more (I know, crazy right?), learn the statistical language R, how to do basic coding in python or similar languages, and learn GIS and more molecular biology (DNA stuff).  My deficiencies in these areas reflect mostly that they came to prominence after I graduated, but anyone fluent in these skills is pretty employable in biology. Oh yeah, and get SCUBA certified. Don’t wait on that one, do it right now; it will open to you a whole new world, literally.

What’s the best part about your job?

Amazing field opportunities seeing extraordinary animals in remote places, and working with passionate and creative people. I also really enjoy sharing my own passion and seeing people get excited about science or nature because of a story I’ve told them about a discovery we’ve made.

What’s the worst part about your job?

Email, hands down! Pick up a phone, already!

Seriously though, it’s the daily grind of negative environmental news and that sense of futility that sometimes overcomes you when you seem to fight losing battles in conservation. The best solution is to celebrate the wins, yours and everyone else’s, and take time to get into nature and remember that there’s still incredible experiences to be had and discoveries to be made.

I do hate email though.