Enhancing my Marine Science Degree: How I Learned to Use Programming Software in Wilhelmshaven, Germany
What I realized
As an oceanographer my degree, focused on the sciences of the ocean, was quite broad, offering me many opportunities to choose modules so that my degree would become more focused on specific areas. In my case I was drawn to the biological element of the ocean. This resulted in me taking many marine biology modules, and conducting a population study as my third year project. However, it meant that I had to depart from the physical and mathematical base courses offered as part of the degree.
I thoroughly enjoyed my biology focused modules, however as my three years came to an end, I realised that I wished I had better skills in some areas, which I just hadn’t had time to accumulate over the degree. One of those missing skills was the ability to use programming software such as Matlab (A powerful software platform, widely used in natural sciences). And, while I currently still have time to figure out what exactly I want to do as a career, I do already know that my future involves data collection, which in turn involves data sets. Consequently the analysis of such data sets requires statistics, which leads back to the need for programming. In fact, nowadays, it becomes more and more difficult to succeed as a scientist without advanced knowledge of programs such as R or Matlab.
Luckily, I found an advertisement for a programming summer school in Wilhelmshaven, Germany. The focus was an ‘Introduction to Data Analysis and Ecosystem Modelling’ (https://www.icbm.de/en/summer-school/2017/) which sounded right up my ally. I applied and was accepted to the program. One of the advantages to this particular program was the cost. I only had to get myself there, in my case from Southampton and pay a minimal fee of 150 Euros. For a two week intensive program, that’s quite a good deal. (I had to pay for food, but I would have had to do that anyways if I had been at home).
A great opportunity
The atmosphere of the summer school was great, with 16 students coming from the USA, Russia, China, and many European countries. We became great friends and not only had fun during down time, but also worked very well together during our lectures and practical classes. It was also interesting to learn about everyone’s backgrounds and their current research. There were students who had just finished their undergraduate degree, as well as those in the final stretches of their PhDs, all from a variety of scientific backgrounds including chemistry, environmental sciences, and marine sciences.
The program included several excursions to the surrounding area of the Wadden Sea, lectures about modelling, and extensive practicals which allowed us to learn and practice the different programming software (R, Matlab, and a Linux nutrient-productivity model). The summer school was run by the Institute for Marine Chemistry and Biology (ICBM), part of the University of Oldenburg. They have facilities in Oldenburg (not coastal), Wilhelmshaven (coastal), and on a tidal barrier island, Spiekeroog. We were able to visit all three facilities and learnt about the various research projects happening at each of them. One of the more exciting activities was visiting their time series station located off the island of Spiekeroog. Its function is to form a picture of the local marine environment over time. It consists of a platform standing approximately 10m above the sea surface, attached to which are a variety of instruments for measuring weather and sea state parameters.
The second part of the construction is a cylinder standing on the seafloor. Within the cylinder are horizontal tubes at constant intervals which allow water to pass through a variety of instruments measuring marine parameters, such as temperature, salinity (saltiness), and turbidity (sediment), among others. We were able to climb onto the platform and then down the cylinder to look at the marine instruments which meant we were standing about 10m below the surface of the sea.
While the summer school had a steep learning curve in terms of the programming, it was well worthwhile and I feel much more confident in my programming skills. Not only have I developed my modelling and programming skills, but I now have a new network of 15 other scientists who study topics in my field of interest. Whether you are still in school and interested in pursuing a science degree or a finishing PhD student, it is worthwhile to know that summer schools exist for students in higher education, to enhance skill sets that you may need for your research, and can be a great tool for learning, networking, and experiencing a different research institute and environment.