M.Sc. of Biology – A Path Unforeseen

Backtrack 8 years ago

and I had just picked up my first DSLR, a used Canon Rebel XT from EBay.com. I was a musician playing bass guitar in a punk rock band (The Real Deal: no that’s actually the name of the band not a statement, though we were “the real deal”) and to date we were majorly self-funded and self-run. Had you asked me what my future entailed, the answer was easy. I was so concerned with the present, living in the absolute moment possible, my future much resembling my present. There was no future without the band and without my new hobby which I grew very fond of. On most days I would enjoy playing a show, eating some food, and then photographing small independent bands to give them exposure as a part-time contributor to Truth Explosion Magazine. The present was lovely, plans for a future tour to Japan and China were shaping up, a lifelong dream as far as Japan is concerned. Needless to say, to remove the thought of not being in a band, my plan A-Z, was simply fading into nothingness. You simply don’t realize how much something means to you until it is lost. That is a simple but stark reality. Fast forward 8 years later and all that remains of a time I believed unchangeable is my sunburst 4-string sterling bass guitar from Ernie Ball, a token of an evanescence period and an iconic memento though of memories not soon forgotten. It is crazy how I’ve always realized that life was short, yet failed to acknowledge how much can happen in that time. Months ago I graduated with a Master of Science in Biology: mammalian mating systems and reindeer ecology. You can find my thesis here for those interested on reading about sexual competition in reindeer and how we successfully completed the first large scale experiment of manipulating operational sex ratio (OSR: ratio of reproductively active males to fertilizable females) in a field setting with large mammals.

How did I get here? By taking steps forward of course. By trusting in my every move and committing fully absent the level of risk but aware of potential setbacks. The weight of my defense and graduating as a recent biologist into the world hasn’t sunken in yet. I am still in disbelief on how my life right now is everything I’ve ever wanted, at least it feels that way. Do I miss the band? Without a doubt, the most thought of memory day in and day out. Do I miss touring? Touring is why I am here, it is why I am in love with the world. Everything I have seen because of the band whether it brought a tear to my eye or a smile to my childish face, had made me love the world even more. Its complexity, its simplicity, and everything in between. I am now a photographer with 8 years’ experience. Photography as an art and science hasn’t changed for me, perhaps I’m holding on as it tethers me to the past. My level of skill has improved and I finally have a website after much time contemplating and justifying the expense. My work has been as of this year featured in Finland’s 2015 Reindeer Herder’s Association Annual Report and most recently as the cover of Journal of Mammalogy in June(see below). The honour is unbearable, I am filled with much joy and gratitude. As an aspiring wildlife biologist, my aim has always been to seamlessly combine both love of photography and science. Great science should be documented as such. I hope that my skills as an adaptive photographer will favour my skills as an adaptable biologist. The path that now follows is one of using the knowledge set acquired over numerous years of going back to an institution I never thought I would enter again to find a job in my field and gain practical experience.

What is the point of this blog you might ask; just sharing my experience and how we should make it our interest to open our minds to new possibilities. Don’t get me wrong, I never closed my mind to the possibilities, I just couldn’t see them as being in a band was my past, present, and future. Going back to school has forced me to think ahead and make decisions not only based on today but the health of tomorrow. It doesn’t take away from the fact that I live everyday as it is my last, yet perspectives change. The impermanence of our lives should be enough to really stop and reflect on how our actions can ripple into the world. The choice is yours if you want those actions to spread shadows or spread light in a non-religious context of course. I’ve chosen (for now) to commit my life to trying to understand the very species that are somewhat powerless in the wake of an expanding and power hungry human civilization. We have choices, most animals do not. How far will the evolution of Homo sapiens span and will it take longer for us to be wiped out by a stochastic event or by events of our own demise? Every day we have a choice on how to live our lives. I like to to think that every day I can make someone I don’t know happy by answering a question on a street, picking up a fallen fruit from their grocery cart, or striking a conversation with someone on the metro who appears to be burdened. I have found my niche in a field where rigorous data collection and a high integrity in research leads to statistical inferences which can disprove predictions from hypothesis rarely and commonly visited. Science is about ‘truth’, whether we are accepting or not is a whole different story. My story continues and we’ll see how far these beliefs will lead me. Most importantly, I’ve always believed in self and that in turn has given me hope for the calamity we’ve created. It is all about balance, but balance is hard to strike when it takes the entire weight of the world to shift from one stance to another.

#postgradlife isn’t always about getting a job in the field you’re trained in. That is my intention, yet I’ve been actively applying since April (passively since November 2015) with no real opportunity to present itself, a reality most don’t consider when entering grad school. If you’re lucky like me, you’ll have your first shift loving everything about it at Steve Marcone’s Bistro Amerigo because I’ve always loved to cook. Great food, staff, and relaxing decor. I’ll be a conservation biologist someday, caribou biologist being really the big goal, for now let’s get those bills paid.

Post grad life also means learning to take rejection with a positive flare, such as my rejection for my manuscript with Journal of Mammaology. I may have been lucky to be featured on the cover of this prestigious journal back in June, but the reviewers did such a great job at tweezing apart every detail, every flaw of my research, every dusty corner, that I could only smile and nod when I read their comments. Keep trying, eventually you’ll pierce, eventually you’ll convey how passionate you are at the right moment in time.

Schools are just large successful corporations, don’t get caught up in the myth, the dream. Start applying as early as you can for a job because your diploma doesn’t get you a job, YOU get yourself that dream job. Don’t stop persevering! Sous-chef today maybe Wildlife Biologist tomorrow. Now read my thesis and learn something about reindeer!


Cover image