Just the job
Stirling alumni give tips on getting jobs in aquaculture
Stirling careers day
THE buzz words at this year’s students’ careers day at Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture were ‘network’, ‘communicate’ and ‘shine’, the first two perhaps being easier to explain than the latter.
Almost all the speakers, alumni of the Institute of Aquaculture, highlighted the importance of making contacts and hanging on to them for life.
The institute’s director, Professor Selina Stead, was first to offer advice to the young scientists approaching the end of their masters degrees or doctorates.
‘I cannot stress how important it is to take that opportunity to go and speak to people – in any minute you’ve got,’ she said. ‘To have so many experts here in one place at one time is really quite unique.’
As well as those giving presentations, there were representatives from several companies, both producers and from the supply chain, who had set up stalls during the day-long event, which was organised by the Aquaculture Students Asso
ciation. It was a chance to find out the variety of jobs available- the most exciting research, the consultancies, the industry, and what’s happening in government, said Stead.
Scottish Sea Farms vet Dario Mascolo, who qualified in Italy before completing the masters in aquatic veterinary studies at Stirling, described the interview process for his job.
He saw the head of fish health first, and in his second interview he was quizzed by the managing director.
‘He was trying to suss out if I wanted to stay in Scotland and if I wanted to take up the responsibilities of the role.’
Mascolo’s third and final interview was with the company production manager and involved a site visit – which was more intended to assess his capability to communicate with people.
‘You need to build rapport with the people who are actually seeing the fish every day…there are 40 sites and you can’t be on site every day,’ he said. His suggestions for students included: • Practise your communication skills – it’s not only about what you
know, it’s about how you deliver it; • Be prepared – know what the company ethos is; • Be honest – there is no point in boasting skills you don’t have. The
company will invest in new graduates’ training so show them how
willing you are to learn; • Don’t be afraid to take up a different role – there are lots of roles in fish health that might not be what you’re looking for, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it; it’s a step into the industry and you can work your way up. Mascolo said there were many opportunities in fish health; at Scottish Sea Farms, for example, more than 10 per cent of employees are involved directly in fish health and welfare, from site level up to management level. ‘If there’s no health, there’s no growth,’ he said. Andre Paul Van, who is fish health manager for one of the oldest, family run fish farming businesses in Scotland, Kames Fish Farming, applied for a different role to the one he wanted.
He didn’t have much fish farming experience when he started, after focusing on research for his PhD (at Stirling), and started with a more husbandry focused position.
But Kames boss Stuart Cannon, another Stirling alumni, asked him what he wanted to be and he said a fish health manager as it was a good balance between research and industry.
As Van gained experience he gradually took on more fish health responsibilities, although his job now involves everything from hatchery duties, to husbandry, the transportation of fish out to sea in helicopters, grading, harvesting and sometimes even building cages.
‘Working for a small company you can get first-hand experience of what fish farming is really all about,’ he said.
Kames, which focuses mainly on rainbow trout, is undergoing an expansion process, aiming to double production between 2019 and 2023, said Van.
Offering advice to students, he said any fish farming experience goes a long way. Also important are initiative and problem solving skills; and adaptability, because ‘nothing is predictable in fish farming!’
Another Stirling alumni, Nicholas Stinton, prioritised farm experience as the key to getting ahead in the industry.
As a fish health inspector for Cefas (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science), he told the students that the Fish Health Inspectorate was looking for people with applied knowledge, and experience is invaluable.
‘We wouldn’t even consider you without experience. We work collaboratively with the industry and the last thing they want is someone who is straight out of university with no experience telling them what to do. Instantly you get a bit of kudos and they’ll listen to you if you’ve spent some time in aquaculture.’
He also said students had to ‘shine’ and when asked, by Kathrin Steinberg, current president of the EAS-SG (European Aquaculture Society Student Group), what this meant, he recommeneded trying to stand out by doing research and asking pertinent questions.
‘Be engaging – there is a fine line between being engaging and being over confident.’
More invaluable job hunting tips came from Julio Lopez Alvarado of Elanco, who advised students to read between the lines in their job search, because sometimes companies don’t mention fish health in the advertisements – they ask for ‘key account managers’ when they are looking for a vet or fish health biologist!
He said networking was ‘crucial’. It was often the route into a job, rather than an advertisement or interview. And once contacts have been made, Alvarado said ‘keep in touch for life’.
Alvarado’s interview tips • Study the company, learn about its products,
its location, its species, as much as you can; • Learn about your interviewer if possible, they
will be impressed; • Study the sector, pharmaceutical, aquaculture
or whatever; • Dress for the occasion – not necessarily a suit but properly. If you succeed you will represent the company so you have to project the right image; • Try to be relaxed – the company doesn’t want to hire people who panic, so be yourself, these are your future friends, or maybe your future competitors. They are looking for your personality and your capacity. Alvarado said he was asked to give a presentation at an interview on the future of salmon farming in Europe and the health challenges.
Daunting though this was, it was a wonderful
“Turning up on time or delivering to a deadline can be more important degree” than a first class
chance to come prepared and organised, and to really engage with the interviewers.
‘Even if they don’t ask for a presentation, prepare one anyway and imagine you have to give one,’ he suggested.
The Institute of Aquaculture attracts students from all over the world and many of the speakers during the careers day had come to Scotland from the Mediterranean.
One of these was Antonios Chalaris, product manager for BioMar UK, who decided to leave Greece to do an internship as part of his degree.
‘I asked myself, which country in Europe has the best aquaculture in terms of technology, innovation and resources and the answer was very straightforward: Norway!’
But he ended up in ‘the second best country in Europe, Scotland’, and found himself in the remote location of Ardtoe, where he was introduced to cleaner fish by Ardtoe’s research director, Jim Treasurer.
When Chalaris studied for his masters at Stirling, the biggest opportunity was meeting people, from 24 different nationalities, the vast majority of whom are now working in aquaculture and fisheries.
But, as Chalaris told today’s students, the route ahead does not always go as planned. Determined to do a PhD in cleaner fish, he turned down several job offers, but then missed out on the PhD.
Instead, he went to work at Otter Ferry, mainly farming ballan wrasse, but also lumpfish and halibut. He made it clear to the boss, Alastair Barge, that he wanted to do a PhD.
Barge was happy to help and Chalaris embarked on an industry-led doctorate, with two academic supervisors from the IoA, Herve Migaud and Andrew Davie, and a focus on improving the hatchery performance of ballan wrasse.
Sometimes it was difficult balancing the demands of his job with those of his PhD.
‘I had academic supervisors asking for more samples, which the farm managers were not happy about, because the production of ballan wrasse then was 5,000 fish a year.
‘I couldn’t really go and say I’d like a few thousand fish to play with for my PhD…I found myself many times being stretched between academia and the industry.’
Having successfully completed his PhD and after six years at Otter Ferry, Chalaris joined BioMar
“You are going to be business partners tomorrow, you’re going to be colleagues, or competitors or customers, so make sure that you other” speak to each
which, he said, is always looking for new people. BioMar operates all over the world, in Central and South America, in Europe and Asia, and the company is building its newest feed plant in Tasmania.
Now he has made the transition from the academic world to the commercial environment, Chalaris was able to offer advice on how to be ‘office ready’.
This means knowing how to write a proper business email; knowing how to behave in meetings (make sure you don’t use your phone, ‘one of the worst things you can do’); and knowing how to present to an audience.
‘Turning up on time or delivering to a deadline can be more important than a first class degree. You might have the best CV in the world but if you are two minutes late to your interview you’ll never get the job.’
Once hired, he said: ‘Make sure you work hard and do nothing less than your best, every single time, in whatever you do.’
Chalaris, a student leader at Stirling and former president of the EAS Student Group, encouraged students to join student groups – and to network.
‘All you guys here are going to be business partners tomorrow, you’re going to be colleagues, or competitors or customers, so make sure that you speak to each other.’
Echoing his comments was the current EAS-SG president, Kathrin Steinberg, who also studied at Stirling.
She tried to provide insights into how to shine at the interview stage, saying that it was not enough to list your achievements.
‘I’m not sure my CV really shines,’ she said modestly. ‘One thing that might be good is to try to find something you might have in common with the employer.’
She also suggested mentioning other interests in CVs as a possible ice-breaker, and said that whenever she includes hers it always comes up in the interview....but that may just be becasue her hobby is underwater hockey.
Steinberg has moved around in her career to date and said she had found a ‘middle area’ that combines science and industry, working for the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) as a performance data coordinator.
‘My advice is love your topic, whatever you do, and be able to explain why you do it and why you love it.’
What she looks for in students is someone who is open, honest, curious, has the ability to fail (‘if you fail at something you do it again and you do it better’), and the ability to work independently.
Picking up the refrain of the day, Steinberg finished by saying ‘network, network, network, attend conferences and talk to people’.
The EAS is ‘basically a big networking organisation’, promoting contacts within industry, within science, within research, to facilitate the circulation of information.
‘Why is networking so important in aquaculture? It’s a small industry, if you start now you will end up knowing the whole industry,’ said Steinberg.
‘Even if you want to work as a scientist it’s important to do some internships so you know what happens on site.
‘At least talk to farmers and try to understand what the problems are. Stay up to date by networking and reading a lot of magazines.’
*Steinberg said the EAS is still looking for student helpers for the next EAS conference, in Berlin in October 2019. Students get free registration if they work more than 25 hours in the conference and are paid 10 euros per hour. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Left: Aquaculture Students Association president Carolina Fernandez (front row centre) and her team Opposite: IoA alumni Dario Mascolo and Antonios Chalaris; students registering at the Careers Day; Elanco’s Julio Lopez Alvarado.
Top left: Industry representatives discuss job opportunities Above: Aquaculture consultant Malcolm Beveridge discussed his varied global career