What the “Queen of Mantas” Thinks You Should Know Before You Pursue a Science Career
When Dr. Andrea Marshall was a young girl in Palo Alto, she sought out Girl Scouts for a sense of community and sisterhood—but ended up getting much more than that.
“I was an only child and somewhat of a loner,” says Marshall, a wildlife conservationist profiled in a BBC documentary called “Andrea: Queen of Mantas” and the cofounder of the Marine Megafauna Foundation. The National Geographic Society also inducted her as a member based on the fact that she is the first scientist to earn a PhD for studies on the endangered manta ray and her discovery of new species of manta rays.
Marshall says that Brownies is where her sense of stewardship for the environment was fostered, a passion that has driven her career.
“My parents weren’t nature-oriented, but I’ve always been that way,” says Marshall, who is now 39 and based in Mozambique. “The first time I went camping was with my Brownie troop and I’ll never forget those wilderness experiences. I think those experiences gave me my first taste of what I wanted to do for my career.”
Read on as Marshall offers advice to women interested in pursuing a career in science.
Regardless of your field, your education needs to be broad.
“To make a complex career sustainable, you’ll need more than passion. You’ll need an advanced degree, either a master’s or a doctorate, and other skills, too. I became a master diver and took public speaking and photography courses so that I could take information and disseminate it to a wide audience. Studying management and leadership is important, too, because more and more employers are looking to see what makes you stand out in a crowd.”
Don’t feel forced to define your area of expertise—it will find you.
“When I moved to Africa, I happened upon a population of manta rays in Mozambique. I learned that there was no information about them and that there was a trade industry for their body parts in Asia. I sold everything I owned, built a hut on the beach, and started a self-funded PhD. I never planned to study these animals but my desire to fight for them compelled me to build my whole career around them.”
Find strength in the changing landscape.
“When I was younger there were few women marine scientists to look up to besides Sylvia Earle and Eugenie Clark but nowadays women are dominating the field. I think that’s encouraging a lot of young female scientists.”
Be wary of starting a nonprofit.
“I liken this to restaurants: Anyone can open one but most close within the first year. To create a successful nonprofit that’s sustainable requires stamina. You have to believe that you’re creating something unique and important. If someone else is doing something similar it might even be better to join that team instead of trying to recreate the wheel.”
You don’t have to choose between career and family—if you’re willing to hustle.
“I used to procrastinate a lot, but now that I have so little time the pressure is on and I find that I’ve gotten way more efficient. I use the adrenaline that comes when you’re on deadline to my advantage. You’re going to multitask, you’re going to batch certain tasks, and you’re going to make lists, but you’re going to become more efficient.”
Take inspiration in the opportunity to change the world.
“At Marine Megafauna our goal is to save ocean giants from extinction. Every day I’m grateful for the opportunity to play a role in preserving wildlife.”