First, I want to thank everyone who sent me wonderful comments and shared the blog. I never expected that response and I really appreciate it!
So we pick up from Malaysia. I became a dive instructor, was wonderfully happy spending all my time underwater but something was missing. I missed school! My best friend thought I was crazy because he was dying to get out of school and all I wanted was to be back in it. I didn’t have reliable internet so trying to find a masters or PhD project just seemed too hard and too long a process. I applied to JCU to do an undergraduate degree again. If nothing else, I would at least have a visa to be in Australia and be at the school I wanted to be at while I was looking for a supervisor for a research degree. I was accepted, got my visa, and came to Townsville a couple months before I was set to start. Part of me was excited to be at JCU, while part of me was really not looking forward to basic maths and biology again, but I had a couple months to settle in and then worry about classes.
When I was looking for places to live, I knew what I wanted, one other roommate who had dogs. I missed my dogs back home but I travel too much to have one of my own so a roommate with dogs was the next best thing. I found a place fairly quickly and had two cuddly Boston Terriers to play with, Dexter and Mosely. I also needed something to occupy my time before the semester started so I began volunteering at Billabong Sanctuary so I could spend some time up, close, and personal with Australian wildlife. I loved it at Billabong and picked up everything pretty quickly, including doing the shows, so I was offered a job within a couple months of being there. Throughout my time at Billabong, where I still work today, I have made some amazing friends (including furry ones) that are now my Australian family!
Once the semester started, I went to my first class, basic first year biology. I walked out of it and realized there was no way I could do another undergraduate degree so I went to student services to see if there were any other options. The Masters by coursework offered some new courses I could take that were far more specialized and catered to my interests than my undergrad courses had been. I could also spend a semester doing a research project and hopefully stay on after that for a PhD. A week later all the paperwork was done and I had switched to my new courses as a masters student. For the most part, the courses were what I had hoped my undergraduate degree had been. They were taught by global leaders in the field and mainly covered marine topics with an emphasis on conservation. For the research portion, I knew which professor I wanted to work with and took his course so he would know who I was.
I had no interest in ‘Managing Tropical Fisheries,’ because I wanted nothing to do fisheries at all. I was never interested in them and certainly never wanted to study them, but that was the only course that Prof. Colin Simpfendorfer taught so I took it. I ended up liking the course, not loving it because there was a lot of focus on the social side and I wanted more of the biological side, but it gave me a chance to talk to Colin about a masters project. He warned me that he got requests from many students to do projects so I sent him my CV and we set up a meeting to discuss. When we met, there was good and bad news. The good news was he was willing to take me as a student, yay! The bad news was the project. I was going to be doing a management effectiveness evaluation of Australian fisheries in regards to their catch of elasmobranchs. Essentially, this meant reading every fisheries document on every fishery in Australia and grading them.
While I didn’t love the idea of the project at the start, I was determined to work my ass off to prove I would be a good PhD student and made my intentions of continuing with Colin as a PhD candidate clear from the start. Lucky for me, I ended up really loving the project. Even though it was a lot of reading and no field time, I was really happy to be working on it and working with such supportive supervisors. In addition to having Colin as a supervisor, I got to have Dr. Andrew Chin as one as well. He was working on the greater project that mine was a small subset of. Not only did I love what I was doing, it was the first time I felt like the research I was doing was entirely applicable and helpful in policy and management decisions. Hopefully the paper from that project will be out soon, (still working on the manuscript) and when it is, I will post it here.
So I worked really hard on my masters project. I showed up to my office (right next to Colin’s and Andrew’s) everyday between 7-8 and was usually the last person in the office, leaving at about 5. When it came time to ask Colin about staying for a PhD, it wasn’t even really a conversation. He told me about a project that would fit well with my interests, and it had a lot of field work, perfect! I applied and got in to the PhD program with my 3 amazing supervisors, Colin, Andrew and Dr. Michelle Huepel.
My project is part of the Global Fin Print project and I get to travel to SE Asia, setting out baited remote underwater videos (BRUVs) to look at elasmobranch abundance and diversity. Click here for some BRUV highlights from the project in North America so far. For my PhD, I will be focusing on rays, the often forgotten members of the “sharks and rays” category. Our first trip overseas is tentatively planned for November, a month in Borneo, Malaysia. I got to be a part of this project because of my connections and knowledge of Malaysia. The only reason I have those connections is because I had my heart broken over 3 years ago when my original PhD fell through. Everything came full circle. I am exactly where I wanted to be when I was in high school, working with the group I wanted to be working with, and doing a lot of field work in Malaysia, a country that feels like home, as well as other countries in SE Asia.
So that sums up my journey to becoming a PhD student, thank you for reading again. I hope you all stay on this journey with me as I’m sure it won’t all be smooth sailing just because I’m doing what I want to be doing. Again, leave me some comments or questions so I know what you want to hear more about and feel free to share this. You can follow more regular updates on my Twitter: @SammSherman27.