July 30, 2019
We interviewed Brian Mauer, a Water Systems Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. His job is to maintain the life support systems for all the animals at The Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Water Systems Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I design and maintain the systems that filter and distribute aquarium water and make it a healthy environment for the plants and animals on display.
I chose my career because I always loved the ocean growing up, and was always drawn to biology and science in school, so I combined the two in pursuing a career in marine science. Also, as a surfer I knew I wanted to always live by the coast, and I figured a job in marine science was a sure bet to do so! Once in grad school, studying biological oceanography, I got involved with testing and R&D of ballast water treatment systems, big water treatment systems that are installed on ships to sterilize the water in their ballast tanks and prevent the spread of invasive species. I was very interested in the water treatment systems themselves and how they might be fine-tuned, so when a job in the water systems field at MBA was posted, I applied and ended up being hired. Since then I’ve found the field to be both challenging and rewarding, with endless opportunity for learning.
Every day is different. Most days start at my desk, emailing with internal staff about equipment, water quality or animal health issues and ways to fix them and with outside contractors and vendors about developing new or upgraded exhibits. Most days involve a hands-on component, fixing equipment, installing sensors investigating issues with systems behind the scenes. And most days also include everyone’s favorite: meetings! Meetings with my staff, my boss and other work groups as we all work together to keep things running, improve them when possible, and build new, cool, engaging exhibits for our guests.
My work maintains a healthy environment (water) for the collection of animals living in our exhibits. This allows guests to experience the amazing animals and ecosystems that live hidden just below the ocean’s surface, and hopefully leave the aquarium wanting to do something to protect the ocean environment. Our livelihood as humans on land is largely dependent upon the ocean, it makes the oxygen we breathe, buffers climate change, feeds us and so on, so any positive impact on the ocean has a positive impact on humanity.
I studied general biology at UC San Diego, then earned a master’s in marine science (with focus in Biological Oceanography) from Moss Landing Marine Labs.
I always enjoyed biology and history classes. My favorite subjects in biology were Plant Biology and Animal Physiology.
My mentor was, and is, my first boss at the aquarium, Roger Phillips. Roger taught me just about everything I know in terms of how to design and maintain water systems in an aquarium environment. But more importantly, he taught me how to be a good boss and fair to my employees, how to stay calm when faced with a challenge, how to break a problem down to its core elements in trying to find a solution, and how to be always learning and staying passionate about the work we do.
Internships are great, even if they are unpaid. Entry level jobs are even better. Don’t chase the job with the highest salary when you’re young, just get as much experience, and diverse experience, as possible. Sometimes the expectation about a career path is not consistent with reality, so it is best to find out ASAP if your dream job really is what you think it is. Get some hands on experience in a field you’re interested in, then you can better decide if you should remain on the same career path, tweak it slightly, or do an about-face and go in a different direction entirely. These are all good results, as they are all steering you to a path that will eventually be enjoyable and rewarding.
I think there should be more hands-on components in school. I think people learn best and retain the most information when they use their hands or are actively involved in some way.
We often think of the sciences as discrete subjects, and focus on them in isolation. However, in reality, all of the sciences are intertwined, so soak up as much knowledge as possible from all the various scientific fields. You might think of yourself as a Biologist, for example, but as you actually become one, you will continually be surprised about just how much chemistry, physics and other sciences are involved with every new subject you learn. Having even a low level of understanding of subject matter that supports the core subject enables a much deeper understanding of that core subject. This deeper understanding will make learning in the future easier, and will also facilitate innovation and new ways of thinking about old problems.