After 11 years in school and another four in tertiary education, one may hope for life to get easier. Equipped with expensive knowledge and the exuberance of a fresh grad who doesn’t have a job to hate yet, the reality of what comes after a degree can often be a rude awakening to young graduates.
Selecting the public education route is a significantly more affordable option than the private education one, and is often the path most STPM and Matriculation graduates in Malaysia take.
For the love of the sea
Four young adults, marine science graduates Chuan Chee Hoe, Ee Pei Vi and Amirul Faris, and marine biology graduate Nur Aliah Amira, shared with Maritime Fairtrade the different career paths they have taken but they all share a common passion for ocean conservation and a love for the sea.
Currently performing a study on the jellyfish population of the region and its impacts on the inhabitants of the state, Chee Hoe is a master-degree student at the Borneo Marine Research Institute of Universiti Malaysia Sabah. Getting here was no mean feat. Having completed his STPM papers at SMK La Salle PJ, Chee Hoe went on to graduate from Universiti Malaysia Sabah.
“While there, I was studying the carbon storage dynamics of coastal ecosystems, quite a departure from the jellyfish that I would later go on to study, yet giving me invaluable information from other fields like biogeochemistry,” he shared. For his internship, Chee Hoe was attached to the University of Melbourne studying climate and soil sciences.
In contrast, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia graduate Ee Pei Vi and Royal Malaysian Navy cadet Amirul Faris did not pursue postgraduate study. Pei Vi’s first venture into the industry was with World Wide Fund (WWF) Malaysia, where she assisted with projects and conservation efforts for a year before taking up the role of event and education coordinator at Seamonkey Project, where she currently is.
“What I studied has very little to do with what I am doing at the moment. Sometimes, event organizing feels closer to it,” she said. In the day, she provides educational information and participates in beach clean ups as well as other conservation efforts. In her spare time, this driven conservationist also actively practices and advocates a greener lifestyle while promoting environmental awareness on social media.
Amirul did his internship at Batu Batu, a stunning eco island resort located in the protected Johor Marine Park. This opportunity exposed him to conservation and sustainability projects, a great learning experience for a young student.
“The team and I worked on turtle conservation and research, coral reef restoration, environmental education and beach profile monitoring, among many other projects,” Amirul shared. His tone grew increasingly eager as he spoke, revealing his fondness of the time he spent there. He then went on to pursue a voluntary internship at Petronas.
“I found that graduates with some working knowledge of the oil and gas industry are highly sought after,” he explained. Following that, he went on to enroll as a cadet at the Royal Malaysian Navy, where he is now. Cadets spend two years learning practical skills like boat work and navigating before going on to be senior cadets and eventually receive assignments based on their ranks.
Going down a slightly different path, education coordinator Nur Aliah Amira pursued a degree in marine biology from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu and now works with the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia. Here, she organizes and runs education programs, manages their social media accounts, and assists with fundraising and marketing, among other things. She has almost the same sentiment as Pei Vi, “Sometimes it does feel like event management”.
But that is part and parcel of what comes with the job, as she added that about 75 percent of what she learned during her undergraduate days has proven relevant to what she does now. As the industry is such a specialized one, having a Master or PhD degree in the field may be a very valuable commodity. Aliah explained that as local demand for marine biologists is not very high and the search for a job is not easy, these higher degrees can assist when looking for better career opportunities overseas.
Are there many opportunities?
“As a person from the academic field, my certification and past publications will allow me to pursue other fields in academics as well, not necessarily of a marine/maritime background. For instance, the skills I learnt in my undergraduate course on carbon science and research will also allow me to study the carbon systems found in terrestrial systems. Other options include going into scientific communications writing, with the background of writing and publishing scientific articles proving useful in that aspect,” said Chee Hoe.
He also spoke of his colleagues, one of whom works as a jellyfish curator for a museum in Singapore. Another colleague cultures jellyfish to sell to aquariums, working with government agencies.
While the options are wide and varied, it is different for those who already know what they want to do. “It wasn’t easy. I only came across five conservation jobs in the span of a whole year after graduating in 2018,” Pei Vi said of her personal experience. When asked if there are other options her degree will allow her to pursue, she replied that one can work as research assistant and lecturer, should one go on to study a Master or Doctorate degree.
Aliah, who is very sure of what is doing now and sees herself working at the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia for the foreseeable future, pointed out other available options that can be pursued.
“It helps if you know how to utilize the skills that you are good at. Like if you are good with laboratory experiments in microbiology, then you can look at working in something related to microbiology, gain more experience, then move on to a higher position. You can even become a research assistant. On the other hand, if you want to work in a maritime company, you can develop the skills needed while in your current job too.
“It definitely is tough, especially regarding the pay when you work in an NGO. It will eventually work out, in a way. I don’t discount that it’s hard but you have to be optimistic.”
Knowing what you want in your professional life, having awareness and doing research into the options available can save plenty of headaches. With this formula, young graduates can not only map out the education and career path they wish to embark on but also explore other related avenues as well.