This week we get to hear from Dr Sam Jones. Sam is a physical oceanographer with a background in engineering and an interest in data visualisation. He currently works as a postdoc at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban, Scotland. Sam’s research focusses on mixing processes within the water column, ocean-atmosphere interactions, and the use of tracers as proxies to track water masses.
How would you describe your work to a 10yr old?
I’m a physical oceanographer. I investigate the physical properties of the ocean such as temperature and saltiness, and the direction and strength of current flows. I’m interested in how these things change over time because they can impact other parts of the Earth’s climate. For instance if the ocean moves more heat into the Arctic the melting of Arctic glaciers from the underside can accelerate. Much of my work involves sailing a ship to a location to measure water properties, but we’re increasingly using robots which send the data back to us via satellite.
Why did you choose this as a profession?
I did an undergrad degree as an engineer and tried that profession for a few years. My prospects were fairly limited and I was considering a Master’s degree to increase my employability. On reflection I realised that this was an opportunity to take my career in any direction I wanted so I chose a Master’s in oceanography as it was a numerate subject but offered the potential of interesting fieldwork. I would also have considered glaciology for the same reason.
Scientific research is full of challenges; can you share some of your biggest challenges, and how you overcame them?
I’m pretty early in my career so my biggest challenge to date was probably finishing my PhD. Most people find the final 6 months pretty stressful as you’re combining time constraints, financial pressures, uncertainty about the future and the monumental task of condensing 3 ½ years of work into something coherent. I got to the end through a mixture of stubbornness, time management and trying to suppress my usual perfectionist tendencies.
How would you define success as a scientific researcher for you personally?
My definitions of success are pretty modest; I enjoy my job and would like to continue working in a similar field, but in science you can’t stagnate in your career. So sufficient career progression (through publications and successful grants mainly) to allow me to keep doing what I’m doing. Some level of recognition in my field would be nice, and engagement with the public is important too.
What excites you about your current projects?
I’m developing 3D data visualisation techniques, both for communication of ideas for a broader audience, and novel methods for investigation. There’s a lot of interesting science that can be done through better understanding 3D data; I’ve only brushed the surface. There’s a couple of examples on my website, though I need to update them. I’m also excited about the increased use of robotic gliders in oceanography as piloting them through a massive winter storm while I’m sipping coffee in the office is more appealing than being out there myself.
What advice, that has impacted your career, would you like to share with any scientists reading this?
Probably not much that other scientists don’t know already. Maybe my perspective from other careers is helpful though. Science is hard, competitive, stressful… but then you picked a subject which attracts some of the cleverest and most driven people in society, what do you expect? For me, simply feeling enthusiastic about my work has an incalculable benefit for my personal wellbeing, and I think it’s good to remember that we’re pretty lucky to have that.
If another scientist wanted to collaborate with you, what is the best way for them to connect with you?
I try to direct people to my website over LinkedIn etc. as it’s more interesting. Alternatively my work email: Sam.Jones@sams.ac.uk
My thanks to Sam for sharing his experiences, it’s great to get the perspective of a postdoc! I loved it when he said “I got to the end [of my PhD] through a mixture of stubbornness, time management and trying to suppress my usual perfectionist tendencies”. There is some great advice in this sentence. The importance of managing your time wisely, and the fact that done is often better than striving for perfect.
While science is a highly competitive field that attracts highly intelligent and driven people, it gets even better when we’re collaborative. It’s that collaboration that drives our enthusiasm. With that being said, I would encourage you to take a look at Sam’s fantastic website. Sam is also a keen photographer, and you can buy some of his work on his site.
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See you next time,