We interviewed Shana Miller, an international fish conservationist for The Ocean Foundation to learn about careers in environmental conservation, and what conservationists believe is top priority in educating the next generation.
Algae Research Supply’s Interview of Shana Miller
I work in international fisheries conservation for a Washington, DC-based environmental group called The Ocean Foundation.
The ocean is my livelihood but also my passion. As a child, the ocean was a seemingly limitless playground of swimming, boogie boarding and sandcastles. When I was in college, I started fishing and even worked a summer as a first mate on a charter boat. That led me to research the many threats to the ocean and its inhabitants. I’ve never looked back, working in marine science and conservation ever since.
Many people think that marine biologists scuba dive and frolic with dolphins all day long. Not me, unfortunately! I spend my days at a computer – translating science into understandable policy positions, promoting fish conservation to government officials all over the world, and writing, writing, writing – from blogs to policy briefs to scientific papers.
Fish are a major source of protein, employment, and recreation in every region of our planet. By working to conserve fish from the top to the bottom of the food chain, I strive every day toward a sustainable future for our ocean ecosystem and we humans that depend on it.
I studied biology at Cornell University and then went on to get my Master’s degree in marine biology at Stanford University.
My favorite undergraduate class was Neurobiology & Behavior. It had a significant laboratory component that involved various surgical procedures on animals to see how it affected their behavior. We learned firsthand the parts of the brain that control anything from rat learning to bird song. My favorite graduate class was fisheries law. I loved learning about the framework that governs both domestic and international fisheries management.
For as long as I can remember, Jane Goodall has been my hero…for her bravery and pioneering research, for her commitment to conservation of her beloved chimpanzees and beyond, and for her ability to communicate the wonder of nature and urgent need for action to diverse audiences all around the world – young and old, environmentally conscious or not. I’ve also had the privilege of working for three very strong, innovative, and impassioned women, who’ve shared their knowledge but also believed in my own ability to go out into the trenches and succeed. These mentors all inspire me to learn more, explore deeper and push harder.
What areas would you advise students to explore as career paths?
What do I tell my science-loving boys? Fisheries science! In the marine biology/management fields, that’s where I think there’s the most job demand. Fisheries scientists use sophisticated mathematical models to determine how many fish there are currently and how many fish can be caught to ensure a profitable but sustainable fishery into the future. Yes, it’s a lot of number crunching on a computer, but fisheries scientists also get to travel all over the world presenting and implementing their work.
I think there should be more focus on foreign languages. Our world is getting more and more connected, making it that much more critical to be able to communicate in multiple languages, yet most American schools don’t place much priority on learning other languages. Whether you work in international business or international fisheries, the ability to speak other languages fluently is a highly desirable skill.
Passions start early. Continued investments in STEM education are vital. I have 10 and 12-year old boys, and the focus on science is much greater than when I was a kid. When asked about their career aspirations, many kids say that they want to be doctors, paleontologists, aerospace engineers, and of course, marine biologists. Not only do they know they want to work in science, but they even know which specialties interest them. The extracurricular activities and summer programs help to solidify those interests into passions and hopefully one day into careers. That would be my advice – follow your passion. We adults spend too much time at work to not be passionate about it. Find your love, research it, do an internship in the field, take relevant classes, immerse yourself in it, and enjoy every minute of it. Or at least most of the minutes!
Erin F. Fox, 2019