FOR THE LOVE OF WETLANDS –MARINE ECOLOGIST HELPS PROTECT GLOBAL COASTAL ECOSYSTEMS

Author: PhD Alyssa Giffin

Read Time: 872 words, about 6 minutes.

Welcome to part one of the five-part Transition article series, the sequel to the Emergent series, that follows ARI’s Post-Doc Research Fellows as they navigate the next stage of their academic journey post-PhD. Take a journey with them and hear about some of the lessons they have learnt and what drives their passion for their research.

Dr Michael Sievers in the field   Photo: Michael Sievers

In Part One of the ‘Transition’ series we put a spotlight on Dr Michael Sievers, a marine ecologist that focuses his time on assessing coastal wetland ecosystem health as part of the Global Wetlands Project (GLOW) within ARI. Michael came to ARI with a background in aquaculture and ecological trap theory and enjoys using his interdisciplinary knowledge to help conserve ecosystem function. Michael completed his PhD in 2018 and started his post-doc in ARI in 2018.

What is your favourite aspect about your research?

The fact that you’re doing something new. I worked at a mushroom farm for 9 years (whilst studying), and every single day I did essentially the exact same thing! Every day something comes up that is new and interesting.

Why does your work matter?

My work matters because habitats are degrading and being lost, and animals are suffering due to human alterations to environments. I’d like to think my work to date has provided evidence of these impacts and, more importantly, provided strategies to mitigate these impacts.

What is your proudest achievement to date?

Probably giving a plenary talk at an ESA conference about my PhD work. Speaking in front of that many people was very daunting for me as I really didn’t like public speaking, but it went well and was a great experience (once it was over!).

Where do you see your career taking you or where would you like to be in 5 years?

A question that is particularly difficult to answer in academia (and worse for a PhD candidate). Hopefully still conducting research in marine environments.

Every day is a challenge when you’re a scientist, but that’s part of the fun. Continually challenging yourself is a great way to grow and develop as a scientist and person.

Seagrass ecosystems; one of the coastal habitats Michael is working toward protecting with his work at GLOW.  Photo: Global Wetlands Project (GLOW).

What continues to challenge you?

Every day is a challenge when you’re a scientist, but that’s part of the fun. Continually challenging yourself is a great way to grow and develop as a scientist and person.

What would you say to inspire HDR candidates looking to move into a post-doc position?

If you can do a PhD, you can be a post-doc. Like all things, you learn a lot as you go, and you adapt to new situations.

What are the main issues you see need addressing in your field?

We need to halt biodiversity and habitat loss. Although our research is a good start, it’s not really going to help unless those “actually” in charge make wise decisions based on that research.

What brought you to ARI?

The allure of a well-known research institute and support network. Having a job in Australia, period, was also a key factor!

How do you tie your own interests or culture into your scientific career?

I’m quite fond of a social catch up at the local alehouse, so Friday work drinks is always a nice way to integrate my own interests into my scientific career! More seriously, at the post-doc stage, you start to apply for larger grants that fund your salary and project costs, so you have increased flexibility to bring your own interests into your work. I do this by focusing on habitats that are particularly nice to work in (eg seagrass… preferably tropical seagrass).

What has been your funniest moment doing research?

Not so much funny, but I had large experimental ponds deployed at stormwater wetlands during my PhD. One night someone stole a few, but were at least kind enough to neatly place the pot plants I had in the ponds back in the hole where the ponds used to be (there’s kindness in all of us, even thieves).

Do you teach as part of your role, if so, what do you enjoy the most about it?

Not a lot, but when I do it is amazing interacting with interested students. It helps that I mainly assist with an intensive course that typically attracts motivated students and is all about marine/estuarine environments.

How did you find the transition from PhD into being a Post-doc?

I initially found it quite easy, primarily because I went straight into a short-term post-doc where the project was already well defined (and I’d previously worked with my new bosses in the past). Coming to Griffith was a little different, insofar that the project was more open to interpretation (which is also a positive) and I didn’t know many people. I find it surprising how at every stage (e.g. undergrad, MSc, PhD, RF) you think you couldn’t possibly take on more work or be more productive, but you manage to do so as you progress. Everyone is capable of taking the next step forward in their career, whichever direction that might be.

Learn more:

Dr Michael Sievers . Photo: Global Wetlands Project (GLOW).

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