Fair Winds and Following Seas Remotely: Modifying Perceptions of Fieldwork as a Requirement in Marine Science to Aid in Diversifying the Discipline

Pursuing an academic career in marine science requires a range of skills that can be applied across different contexts, including experimental or computational proficiency, policy engagement, teaching, and seagoing fieldwork. The tendency to advertise careers in marine science with imagery of research expeditions results in the perception that it is a requirement for a career in marine science, an indicator of competitiveness in this discipline. Historically, those participating in remote fieldwork over extended periods of time were perceived as “adventurous explorers, with a strong bias towards western, able-bodied men” (Nash et al., 2019). Use of imagery reinforcing such notions for marine scientists fails to recognize that this perception can be discouraging to individuals from other backgrounds who may be excluded from the discipline by a range of real and perceived participatory barriers. Such exclusionary factors include: caring responsibilities, physical mobility, challenging social environments, isolating and physically uncomfortable working environments, mental health challenges, and access to opportunity (Giles et al., 2020). Such barriers disproportionately affect diverse, underrepresented, and marginalized groups, who may therefore struggle to identify with marine science as a potential discipline in which to pursue a successful career. Current work toward achieving net zero targets within ocean research emphasizes the use of autonomous vehicles as alternatives to ocean-going ships (Storey, 2023), and the proposed concept of digital twinning would incorporate similar remote technology coupled with simulations and shore-based decision-making. The concept of digital twinning refers to the use of responsive autonomous platforms that can both collect data and be operated in response to that data, which could provide a non-field-based approach to delivering marine science while also potentially expanding the opportunities available for individuals not able or interested in working in the field. In distinguishing digital twinning from current approaches such as data assimilating models, Kritzinger et al. (2018) note the importance of a two-way data flow between the physical environment and its virtual representation, called a “digital twin,” which, for example, may lead to changes in deployment strategy or data collection by researchers. Because these twins can be controlled and simulated anywhere with access to sufficient computing power, shore-based individuals can interact with a virtual version of the physical environment without being physically present at sea. The technology to support a fully realized digital twin of the ocean is still under development, but its use would require a broader range of skills and roles in the discipline, many of which are not accurately conveyed by the prevailing marketing of field-based disciplines (see Mol and Atchinson, 2019, regarding geosciences). In order to fully integrate this new approach into marine science, employment of individuals with experience and training across a wide range of disciplines from software engineering to traditional field sampling is essential while also presenting the potential for making marine science more inclusive. Individuals for whom working at sea is not possible and/or desirable would be able to make equally valid contributions to such research projects via digital routes, without facing the many barriers fieldwork may present. This study explores the expectations of marine scientists, from both early and more established career stages, around the importance of field experience as a precursor or requirement for a successful marine science career, and also examines the advantages and disadvantages of using digital twinning as a complement to traditional field-based marine science.


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Authors: Nousek-McGregor, Anna, Fisher, Ben, Baker, Chelsey A. ORCIDORCID record for Chelsey A. Baker, Robinson, Carol, Damerell, Gillian, Liszka, Cecilia M. ORCIDORCID record for Cecilia M. Liszka, Fielding, Sophie ORCIDORCID record for Sophie Fielding, Muschitiello, Pilvi

On this site: Cecilia Liszka, Pilvi Saarikoski, Sophie Fielding
6 December, 2023
Oceanography / 36
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