I was born/grew up in: Vancouver, BC
I now live in: Vancouver, BC
I completed my training/education at: B. Sc., Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC. Major in Marine Biology (including one semester at Bamfield Marine Science Centre)
M. Sc., St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, NS. Thesis on intertidal community structure across gradients of environmental stress.
What I do at work
This is a new role at the Aquarium. The main part of my job involves working with the aquarium curator to manage our staff and our live animal collection. I also fill in as a biologist when needed.
As the Assistant Curator, I help with scheduling our teams and address their needs. I help with the organization of our animal collection plan, through the collaboration of organizations, such as Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I also have certain administrative duties including managing the payroll, planning budgets, and purchasing items as needed.
When I am working as a biologist, I set the feeding schedule for the specimens and do the overall maintenance of the exhibits to which I am assigned. This can include seeking out new animals, monitoring water quality, and observing animal patterns of behavior. Sometimes I have to clean the exhibits. For the larger exhibits, this may involve scuba diving to clean the large windows of the aquarium. When we are planning to introduce a new species into the aquarium, I do research to make sure it is compatible and that we will be able to maintain it. I’m always learning new things by reading and attending conferences.
Some special events involve a lot of engineering and problem-solving. For example, we transferred our zebra shark to Odyssey Aquarium in Arizona. This involved retrofitting a holding tank and continuous monitoring of water conditions. This event brought together many individuals with special skillsets for a great collaborative effort.
My career path is
I fell in love with the marine environment during a Grade 11 field trip to the Aquarium. Before this, I always thought that I wanted to become a pediatrician. Then I visited the wet lab here at the Aquarium. I just knew this was what I wanted to do. It was like a calling and I pursued it, even though I struggled in chemistry, math and physics.
I started volunteering at the Aquarium when was in college. I completed a B Sc. in Marine Biology and later an M Sc. that dealt with marine ecosystems. When I returned to Vancouver after completing my schooling, I again volunteered with the Aquarium. I also got a job working in the gift shop. This is what allowed me to get my foot in the door. Later a colleague mentioned there was a biologist position available. I already had my scuba diving license, which helped because not having aquarium experience was considered a setback.
It is important to understand that having a degree is often not enough to get a job. I had a higher degree than what was needed for the job but practical experience is considered just as important in positions like this. I always thought that I would work with conservation and education. I never thought that one day I would take care of the animals. From the minute I started, even while siphoning the sea cucumber feces, I thought it was the best job in the world!
I worked as an Assistant Biologist for a few months, then a Biologist for 5 years, then a Senior Biologist for a few years, and, as of recently, Assistant Curator of Canadian Waters and Propagation. I have been with the Aquarium for 13 years (as of 2019).
I am motivated by
I love it when people look at an exhibit and feel like they are immersed in the real thing. When I observe a behavior that occurs in the wild, it just shows how well we have been at replicating their natural conditions. We are providing the animals with what they need, which is important. Also, when animals are reproducing, that’s a huge success. I also really enjoy diving!
How I affect people’s lives
Although there is always some concern about animals in captivity, I am proud to say that I work for a great organization. Our team does their best to ensure a high level of animal welfare. I very much enjoy what I’m doing. Education of the public is necessary to raise awareness into wanting to protect our natural resources. You can actually see the wonder in people, mostly with kids, about the beauty of our oceans. To be able to do it, and do it well, helps to convey this message. All this definitely makes a difference and I’m proud to be part of the Aquarium.
Outside of work I
I enjoy running during my lunch break to relax. I used to travel on my vacations and go tropical diving, but lately my free time is filled with taking care of my 2- and 6-year-old girls who are now my life!
My advice to others
For anyone thinking of going into this field, learning how to maintain a home aquarium is strongly encouraged. Scuba diving is definitely an asset, and knowledge is essential (there is so much available to read!). Volunteering is also a great way to learn and be known by possible employers. It also give you a chance to see if you enjoy this type of work. Some people might not be aware of the less glamorous aspects of this career, such as preparing fish feeds, cleaning, and generally being wet for long periods at a time.