Expertise: Aquatic Ecology
Adrienne graduated with an Honours degree in Marine Ecology (UNSW FAMER lab & NSW DPI) and followed her passion for aquatic ecology, particularly invertebrates in her professional career. She currently works in the Aquatic Ecology team at Sydney Water and has been involved in method development, quality management and long-term ecology monitoring since 2010.
What is the best thing about your job?
Fieldwork is at the top of my list. Sampling freshwater bugs sometimes involves bushwalking into pristine national parks and collecting water bugs. I love the boat trips we do as well, being on the water and observing the physical conditions, flora and fauna first-hand tells us the story of the site. It’s also a lot of fun and I love communicating the science and importance of what we do.
How did you find a job after or during university?
During university I attended a course called Ocean Biology and Fisheries in 3rd year. It was a very practical course and we had a guest lecture by a scientist from NSW Fisheries. He mentioned a program that was underway that they were looking for people to work on as casuals. I spoke to him at the end of the lecture and he encouraged me to apply. I ended up working one day a week whilst studying, conducting boat number monitoring in Port Hacking for a fishing effort study.
I was able to visit the Fisheries site at Cronulla, which is sadly gone now. I ended up going on to do honours at UNSW with a professor at UNSW and a co-supervisor from Fisheries. This was great for networking and getting an idea of what professional life is like in an applied science industry.
After completing honours I applied for a lot of jobs and was knocked back because of a lack of industry experience. I worked as a Research Assistant at UNSW for a few months on a marine ecology project. After that, I decided to visit some staff from the Australian Museum’s Marine Invertebrate Research area who had helped me during honours. I ended up volunteering with that team on day a week for a year. I learnt so much about how museums work and was able to contribute by updating historical records of specimens kept there. Some specimens were from as far back as 1880.
I had a very short aquatic ecology position at NSW Office of Water in Wollongong and worked on freshwater bugs and water quality monitoring. The fieldwork was great, one site was only accessible by 4WD and we had to canoe to our site.
After that ended, I found it very hard to find a full-time job. I was working in a horrible production line position, with a very un-friendly atmosphere. I hadn’t been accepted on any graduate programs and I was losing hope.
I went back to the museum and they asked me how the marine invertebrate project was going in Wollongong. I said that I wasn’t working on that project but it sounded interesting. He gave me the contact details for someone from Sydney Water who was working on that project. I contacted her to find out more and she told me she was about to leave and I should apply for her job. I applied and during the interview realised that my manager from NSW Office of Water used to manage one of the interviewers and another interviewer used to work with my honours supervisor from UNSW. Everything went well and I’ve been there for almost 8 years now. Networking is so important.
What types of things do you do every day in your role?
My role is based around 4 areas, field, office, lab and adhoc work. Most of our work is for Sydney Water, routine monitoring that we do to look at any impacts of the Waste Water Treatment Plants on the streams and ocean. We also do water quality monitoring and bug work for some councils and other government departments
Field work takes the whole working day and can be in anywhere from the Blues Mountains, Kur-ring-gai Chase National Park to Shellharbour. We look at freshwater bugs, aquatic plants and marine flora and fauna. It can involve long bushwalks, boat work and four-wheel driving. There are always challenges and changes, so we have to think on our feet and use our scientific training to problem solve.
Office work involves data entry and analysis, report writing, project management and a few other things.
Majority of the animals we collect cannot be identified in the field, so we preserve them and take them back to the lab. We use different microscopes and reference material to help us count and identify the animals.
The adhoc projects that come up are great because they challenge us and sometimes put us outside of our comfort zone. Sometimes we receive samples of animals we don’t normally study and it gives us an opportunity to go back to our books and university notes to come up with answers.