On Saturday 9 September, some 100 early career ocean professionals and alumni of the marine, freshwater and tropical master programmes from across Belgium got together in Ostend at the InnovOcean campus to network, learn more about post-study career opportunities, and get to meet and greet several alumni involved in the world of oceans and aquatic sciences. The event was sponsored by VLIZ in the framework of the Ocean Decade.

The event was a collaboration between a very several master programmes and organisations, including the MSc.Oceans and Lakes (interuniversity programme at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Ghent University & Antwerp University), the Erasmus Mundusl M.Sc in Marine Biological Resources โ€˜IMBRSEAโ€™ of Ghent University-, MSc. Tropimundo (the Erasmus Mundus Master Course in Tropical Biodiversity and Ecosystems organised by the Universitรฉ Libre de Bruxelles, and VUB), UNESCO/IOCโ€™s OceanTeacher Global Academy (a global network of Regional Training Centres) , 3 international master programmes of the Universitรฉ de Liรจge, and VLIZ (the Flanders Marine Institute). The target audience of the dayโ€™s events were alumni and students of all of these master programmes.

The premise of the event was to show final year students and recent graduates of the various study programmes which possible career paths they could take after graduation, to highlight and hone their transferable skills, and of course to network with alumni, and hear their career stories. The opening part of the event stressed the importance of the six M.Sc. programmes in Belgium, of alumni networks, of transferable skills, and the opportunities for early career ocean professionals in the Ocean Decade.

Career paths for ocean professionals

Many final year students in various marine and  aquatic-related master programmes do not always realise the wide-ranging career opportunities that are open to them post-study. Interdisciplinarity is the key in most cases, with career paths into academia & research, NGOs, governmental organisations, industry, etc. The dayโ€™s programme was drafted up in such a way as to showcase not only those career possibilities to the students, but also to stress the need to discover, hone and maximise their transferable skills. The closing break-out sessions and networking reception were the icing on the cake for the students and recent graduates to mix and mingle with alumni and hear real-life examples of career trajectories.

Two speakers brought forward some of their expertise: dr. Ronny Merken, coordinator of STEM centre for Brussels, University Association Brussels (UAB), & dr. Luana Da Costa Monteiro, coordinator of IMBRSea at Ghent University. Dr. Merken zoomed in specifically on transferable skills, while dr. Da Costa Monteiro went into specific job application skills for graduates in marine and aquatic sciences

In other words, the focus was partly geared towards practicalities with immediate impact on the students and graduates, by outlining the importance of transferable skills, explaining what they are, how to identify them, and how to hone them. In addition, it was shown how to promote your acquired competences as graduates from marine, tropical and/or freshwater programmes. More re hands-on elements were also offered, such as showing how to write a job application and how to adapt it to the target audience, as well as  tips and tricks on CV and cover letter writing.

The talks were followed by testimonials from alumni from the involved master programmes, who shared the stories of their career paths, including tips and tricks, but also their struggles and ups and downs, and how they overcame these. The alumni came from a diverse range of sectors: academia/research, government, policy, and the private sector. This was followed by a networking workshop in break out rooms, where small groups of around 20 participants would sit with two or three alumni to engage in specific questions related to the topics of the day. The day closed with a networking reception.

OceanDecade

The  event was endorsed by the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development as a Decade Activity, and it was livestreamed and recorded by the OceanTeacher Global Academy (OTGA), an e-platform that offers online training on a wide range of topics related to ocean science. The  recordings and presentations of the event will stay available on OTGA.  The event was a great opportunity to showcase the different ways to engage in the Ocean Decade.

More information on the Master of Oceans and Lakes programme: