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Rhea Arya (India)

From the shores of Mumbai to the Great Barrier Reef

My fascination with the ocean emerged while I was living in the coastal metropolis of Mumbai, and quickly grew into a passion to study Marine Biology. Like so many others, I always dreamed of studying on the Great Barrier Reef, and after completing my bachelor’s degree in Zoology from the University of Mumbai, James Cook University’s Master of Marine Biology felt like the natural next step towards realising my goals. The rest, as they say, is history!

The transition to the laidback small-town lifestyle of Townsville proved to be a refreshing change from the bustling city where I grew up. I met some lovely people, and quickly started to feel at home.

My first semesters at JCU were a challenge. I grappled with the intricacies of statistical analysis, programming languages, and scientific writing—areas that were a far cry from the tranquil oceans and abundant marine life I had envisioned—but important skills a Marine Scientist must develop. It was a steep learning curve, but I persevered. In doing so, I developed a stronger understanding of the skills needed for a career in Marine Biology. Seeking guidance from my professors, asking numerous questions, and meticulously addressing even the smallest programming errors eventually paid off. As the second year approached, I had significantly improved and become more comfortable with the academic demands.

In my final semester at JCU, I secured a sought-after placement with CSIRO (The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), contributing to a research project. I had the opportunity to further develop the research skills I had acquired over two years at JCU, while also learning new ones. This was the highlight of my degree, along with the incredible experience of witnessing the breathtaking beauty of the Great Barrier Reef—an item checked off my bucket list.

If you are considering a degree in Marine Sciences at JCU, here are a few tips to maximise your time here:

  1. Prepare for the unexpected: Recognise that Marine Sciences is more than just blue oceans and pretty fish—it comes with unexpected challenges and diverse aspects in addition to the serene beauty.
  2. Focus on one thing, then diversify: Focus on one skill area at a time and get good at it! Do your research and put in the work. Then explore new things and expand your horizons.
  3. Embrace “R” for data analysis: Data and statistical analyses are integral to Marine Science and other STEM fields. Being open to learning data analysis tools like R will facilitate a smoother navigation through your degree.
  4. Prioritise networking: While at JCU, invest your time wisely, volunteer with community organisations, and connect with the world-class research facilities around you. Whether it is JCU’s Turtle Health Research Facility (The Caraplace), the Marine and Aquaculture Research Facility (MARFU) or the EduQuarium (JCU Cairns Aquarium), getting the opportunity to volunteer in these places will help you build a strong network and gain valuable experiences. Being successful in the industry after you graduate is often about the people you know.
  5. Seek guidance from industry experts: Make new contacts and ask many questions—whether that is in person over a quick cup of coffee, or via Instagram or LinkedIn. Most people you will meet at JCU are genuinely happy to offer a quick helping hand and given the tight-knit nature of the Marine Biology industry, the experts are often eager to connect you to the right people. All you need to do is ask!

Pursuing a career in Marine Biology may be hard but it will be worth it in the end. Keep at it even when you face challenges because perseverance pays off! My time at James Cook University has taken me to incredible places, taught me to code, forged lasting friendships, and culminated in a wonderful graduation. If I can achieve this, so can you!