‘An Opportunity to Advance Professionally’

Thea Moule graduated from Bangor University (U.K.) in 2021 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Marine Biology and a First-Class Honors. The following year, while enrolled in her master’s program at Bangor, she applied to the 2022 BIOS Coral Reef Ecology (CRE) summer course to gain experience working on tropical reef systems. Moule received a full scholarship from the U.K. Associates of BIOS, allowing her to attend the three-week intensive class. “I applied to the CRE class to advance my knowledge of reef functional ecology and obtain fundamental skills in data collection of reef community processes, both in the field and laboratory,” Moule said.

For nearly 40 years, the U.K. Associates of BIOS have provided scholarships to students enrolled in colleges and universities throughout the U.K. who are interested in furthering their studies in the marine and atmospheric sciences. In the last four years alone, more than 40 students have participated in internships at BIOS or attended one of the Institute’s three-week summer courses with support from the U.K. Associates of BIOS.

“BIOS offers unique university programs for talented young scientists,” said Lady Judy Vereker, vice-chairman of the U.K. Associates of BIOS and member of the BIOS Advisory Board. “These include hands-on experiential learning that can be valuable to a student’s education and advancement of their research and future plans for a marine science career.”

Currently, Moule is focused on finishing her master’s thesis with the goal of turning it into a manuscript for publication in a scientific journal. She also hopes to return to BIOS during summer 2023 to participate in the Research Diving Methods course or a research internship, or to work at the Institute as a research technician should a position become available. Photo of Moule during the 2022 CRE course by Ole Brodnicke.

In 2022, one of the U.K. Associates of BIOS scholarship recipients was Thea Moule, 29, a graduate student enrolled in the Master of Research (MRes) in Marine Biology program at Bangor University. Moule was awarded funds to attend the second session of BIOS’s CRE course, from August 8 to 26, which followed closely on the heels of her presentation at the 2022 International Coral Reef Symposium in Bremen, Germany.

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Moule about her experiences at BIOS, how they fit into her academic and professional careers, and what she sees for herself in the future.

What made you decide to apply to the CRE course at BIOS?

Before entering academia, I traveled the world, from Australia to Mexico, working in the SCUBA diving industry. During this time, I experienced first-hand the anthropogenic and climatic threats to tropical coral reef ecosystems, igniting my passion for a research career focused on coral reef ecology. I later enrolled in a bachelor’s degree program in marine biology at Bangor University. For my dissertation, I investigated the influence of direct human impacts on the spatial depth patterns of Pacific coral reef benthic communities. After graduating with a First-Class Honors, I am now enrolled in a master’s program, where my thesis project is focused on determining the variation in reef fish community assemblages among distinct coral habitats.

I was not able to obtain relevant data collection experience on tropical coral reef systems because both of my research projects were desk-based and my academic studies took place in a temperate region. I applied to the CRE class to advance my knowledge of reef functional ecology and obtain fundamental skills in data collection of reef community processes, both in the field and laboratory. I also wanted to network with potential mentors and establish connections within the field to advance my scientific career. I appreciate that networking is incredibly vital for future scientific collaborations, job opportunities, and learning about current research.

I am grateful and deeply appreciative of the generosity of my sponsor, through the U.K. Associates of BIOS, for the full scholarship that allowed me to have the opportunity to attend the CRE class.

Tell us about your experience at the 2022 International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS)

This was my first time attending the conference and it was an honor being part of their first climate-neutral symposium focused on developing science-based solutions to address the unprecedented anthropogenic and climatic disturbances facing coral reefs. I am grateful to the Challenger Society for the travel award and the ICRS European Chapter for the grant that supported my attendance and participation.

I gave a presentation as part of the New Theories and Future Projects theme, under the How Will Tropical Fisheries Respond to Climate Changes on Coral Reefs? session. My talk was titled “The impact of a mass coral bleaching event on reef fish assemblage size-spectra among distinct coral habitats.” It focused on my current master’s research, investigating the variation in body size distributions of carnivorous and herbivorous reef fish communities before and after a mass coral bleaching event on Lizard Island in Australia.

The chance to present was a valuable opportunity to share my research and findings with an audience of international researchers. Despite being nervous leading up to my talk, as it was my first time presenting at an international conference, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was an incredible personal achievement and I was delighted to have received positive feedback from distinguished researchers. In addition to presenting and immersing myself in current coral reef research, I also took the opportunity to network with other attendees, from postgraduates to professors. Overall, the opportunity to attend the premiere international coral reef-focused conference was an invaluable chance to advance both personally and professionally.

In addition to your studies, you also volunteer for The Marine Diaries, a digital ocean science communication platform. Why are you interested in incorporating this into your career?

Science communication is a vital skill for researchers and a fundamental part of being a scientist. Although it is great to conduct exciting science, not being able to communicate the importance to a diverse audience creates exclusion and inhibits the potential to make positive changes. As psychologist and writer Anne Roe said: “Nothing in science has any value to society if it is not communicated.” Effective communication can make science more accessible, prevent misinformation, and improve inclusivity in understanding discoveries. Since I am passionate about pursuing a career researching anthropogenic and climatic impacts on coral reefs and finding solutions to promote ecosystem health and function, I strive to be an effective science communicator to make those positive changes. I love volunteering for The Marine Diaries and last year I wrote my first article titled “Changing climate, changing ocean.

I am also passionate about inclusivity. I am a Women in Ocean Sciences alumna and part of an organisation at the School of Ocean Sciences that raises awareness about systemic racism and the concepts of decolonization within marine sciences. I am keen to incorporate inclusive science communication into my career that centers around inclusion, equity, and intersectionality.

What do you see in your future?

That’s a great question. At the moment, I am focused on finalizing my thesis for submission by the end of the year, after which I will turn it into a manuscript to hopefully be published in a scientific journal. After graduating with my postgraduate degree and having completed five years of academic studies, I plan to celebrate my achievements by traveling. I have yet to decide on a destination, but I plan to go somewhere tropical to explore, SCUBA dive, and network. Moreover, I aim to be back at BIOS next summer either to participate in the Research Diving Methods course or a research internship; however, I am also eager to work as a research technician at BIOS should the opportunity arise.

In the longer term, I would love to stay in coral reef-focused research, either in academia or for a non-profit, and aim to further my academic career by pursuing a doctoral degree. Having lived abroad and traveled to different countries for work, I am excited to continue to obtain positions anywhere in the world. I look forward to continuing my journey and striving toward a career as a coral reef ecologist.

“Thea has gained remarkable experience during her intensive coursework and we are always delighted to see such merit and enthusiasm,” Vereker said. “She continues to use her time there to share her BIOS experience and build her networks. She is a great ambassador for BIOS.”