When Dr Ken Whelan agreed to give BioWeb.ie an interview we were delighted! There was a number of reasons we were so pleased. Firstly, Dr Whelan has been a conservation science professional for over 40 years and knows exactly what it takes to stand out from the crowd. He also knows what’s needed to get research posts and jobs that are highly competitive and sought after. Dr Whelan has experience working in a research and field setting in places like New Zealand, China, France, Chile and Russia; always learning new ways to look at problems and finding novel ways to conserve and protect biodiversity. For Dr Whelan his passion, as you’ll hear from our interview, has always been habitats which involve moving water; rivers in most cases: “I’ll go anywhere to look at odd, strange, intriguing, nice, beautiful rivers”. One of Dr Whelan’s major research areas has been the SALSEA-Merge, which is a research group whose goal is to try to unravel the mysteries of salmon at sea in order to promote their recovery. Listening to Dr Whelan describe the huge efforts made in order to make this research a reality, as well as the effort to collect data and cooperate with scientists from all over Europe, was an excellent insight into how a successful, large-scale conservation research project works. One of the key discoveries of SALSEA was the impact prevailing winds have on salmon migration routes. Climatic changes can lead to sudden alterations in prevailing wind directions and can have dramatic effects on the numbers of salmon returning to rivers to breed.
“There’s more to life than the Marine Institute and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.”
Dr Whelan understands the difficulty and pressure involved in being a “sole trader”, but still believes it is far more worthwhile for aspiring environmentalists to go it alone rather than wait an untold length of time for that dream job to appear: “There’s more to life than the Marine Institute and the National Parks and Wildlife Service.” Many recent graduates from Irish universities are unaware of the opportunities to begin work with their skill sets as independent contractors. Many may also be unaware of the tax aids in place for such a move. Dr Whelan explains that “we’re not teaching people to run their own careers”. Working as an independent contractor can seem daunting, particularly because so little is discussed about it at a university level. Dr Whelan goes on to help people feel more confident that it isn’t an impossible aim or goal: “I don’t work every day as a contractor”. He goes onto say that it is a worthwhile challenge which will really strengthen anyone’s CV: “Don’t be afraid to become part of a interdisciplinary team, do things that you’ve never done before, and if eventually the job in NPWS or Marine Institute comes up you’ll wow them! You’ll absolutely wipe the floor with the competition!”. Dr Whelan finished his time with us talking about a very interesting highlight in his career through the SALSEA project, and reminds us to never be afraid or embarrassed to ask questions.
I hope you gain as much from my interview with Dr Whelan as I did.
“Don’t be afraid to become part of a interdisciplinary team, do things that you’ve never done before, and if eventually the job in NPWS or Marine Institute comes up you’ll wow them! You’ll absolutely wipe the floor with the competition!”
For further details on Dr Whelan’s research or career please follow the below links: