Fascinated by the marine world: Meet Megan Saunders

Portraits for Global Change Institute

Megan is an ecologist, oceanographer and conservation scientist. Her research focuses on the effects of environmental variability and human activities on coastal ecosystems, with the aim of guiding management and policy.

Her strength in cross-disciplinary work is evident by successful collaborations with engineers, geographers, planners and lawyers. She is passionate about science communication and has produced an award winning science video.



SS: Megan, how did you get to your current position?

Saunders underwater with turtleMS: I started my career with a BSc in Marine Biology from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. During and after university I had some amazing marine science related jobs – I was a naturalist at the Vancouver Aquarium, I taught marine science at a remote field station on Vancouver Island in Canada, I studied manatees in Belize, I trained as a SCUBA Divemaster in Honduras, and I worked on a Liveaboard dive boat in Alaska. Next I moved to the far East Coast of Canada to do a PhD in Oceanography at Dalhousie University. There I studied invasive species in kelp beds in the cold waters of the North Atlantic, and I discovered that warming water temperatures were encouraging outbreaks of harmful invasive species. Despite the warming temperatures, the water was still pretty cold – sometimes we were diving under ice! Eventually I moved to Perth, Australia, to do coral research on Ningaloo Reef and to study Rock lobster. Most recently, I moved to Brisbane to study impacts of sea-level rise on coastal ecosystems at the University of Queensland, where I work now.


SS: What, or who, inspired you to get a career in science?

MS: I spent my summers growing up exploring the shorelines of British Columbia, Canada, where I gained a love of the marine world. I also became concerned by the changes that I saw, including loss of kelp beds and disappearing salmon. My parents were instrumental in enabling me to get a career in science. They helped me with my homework and later supported me through the challenges of university and international relocation for jobs. Most importantly they taught me the value of determination and hard work.


SS: What is the most fascinating aspect of your research/work?

MS: I am always fascinated to experience the underwater world- whether from shore, from a boat, or by SCUBA or snorkel. These days I spend a lot of time at the computer, so I appreciate getting to the field even more.


SS: What attracted you to Soapbox Science in the first place?

MS: I loved working in science communication before I started my research career, so Soapbox Science sounded like a lot of fun. On a more serious note, women still suffer from direct and indirect bias in science and in other fields, so it is really important that we increase our visibility and voices.


SS: Sum up in one word your expectations for the day – excitement? Fear? Thrill? Anticipation?

MS: Motivation


SS: If you could change one thing about the scientific culture right now, what would it?

MS: I would change the culture so that there was more job and funding security.


SS: What would be your top recommendation to a female PhD student considering pursuing a career in academia?

MS: Get a good mentor or mentors. Work with people who are going to support you. Learn to be assertive and to have good leadership skills. Identify and keep in mind your reasons for wanting to get a PhD and be a scientist, so that when challenges arise you can reflect on those reasons and maintain motivation. Network. I have lots of recommendations!


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