It’s official, I’ve successfully defended my thesis today and have been awarded a Master’s degree in Fish Biology, Fisheries & Aquaculture from the Humboldt University of Berlin. Perfect time to reflect and share some of the lessons I’ve learned in the past 2 years.
1) College degrees with a focus on ichthyological subjects are rare.
Across Germany, training in fishery sciences is offered at various institutions, colleges, and schools. Vocational education still plays a major role in the training of fish farmers and technicians in Germany, but more recently universities have started to introduce classes and/or entire degrees with focus on fishery and aquatic sciences to their curriculums, e.g.:
University of Rostock: Aquaculture, Marine Biology
University of Hamburg: Marine Ecosystems & Fishery Sciences
Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg: Water & Coastal Management, Marine Environmental Science
University of Bremen: Aquatic Tropical Ecology, Marine Biology
University of Kiel: Biological Oceanography
Humboldt University of Berlin: Fish Biology, Fisheries & Aquaculture
With a Bachelor’s degree in Biology in my pocket and two semesters studying aquaculture in Norway under my belt, I was keen to learn more about the biology and husbandry of fish. The HU’s degree first peaked my interest because of their course catalogue. You can specialize in one of the three domains: Fish Biology & Evolution, Fisheries Management & Conservation as well as Aquaculture. Students can begin their studies during the winter or summer semester. Modules are offered at a four-semester interval and leave you with a lot of flexibility and free choice. However, I soon came to realize that this masters program offers a multitude of other opportunities:
2) Take advantage of campus resources
One thing many college students never discover during their time at college, are the impressive resources available. Besides academic resources, many universities provide career services, computer technical support, counseling and a plethora of sport and recreational activities.
The Fish Biology master is a collaborative degree program between the HU Berlin and IGB. Naturally, this means even more opportunities and services to take advantage of. Just a few hundred meters away from the IGB class rooms, you can get close and personal with some freshwater giants such as the Arapaima gigas or European sturgeon. The IGB library offers not only a quiet space to read and study, it also is the home of an intensive collection of literature and data sets (e.g. directly from the monitoring station at Lake Müggelsee). Contingent on availability, IGB master students can also sign up for courses of the IGB doctoral program to deepen their knowledge of statistical methods and other career-related skills.
But if you asked me to name the most eye-opening experience during my degree, the answer would clearly be: working as a research assistant. Students can get in-depth insights into their future career and gain first-hand work experience by participating in research projects at the IGB. I was fortunate enough to work under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Jens Krause for two years, which enabled me contribute to many different projects ranging from video tracking to work with a biomimetic robot to study animal behavior. It also included two 1-month field trips to Mexico, where I gained the skills and confidence that have led me to my current PhD project and have shaped my career path ever since.
3) International contact and collaborations are invaluable
Nowadays, international mobility is a must for early career scientists. Many fellowships and job opportunities require their applicants to have at least one year of foreign (work) experience.
It will never be easier to travel than while you’re a student. Organizations such as Erasmus, DAAD or Fulbright offer scholarships for internships or studying abroad. I took advantage of the former two to spend two semesters in Norway: one term to study aquaculture and second term to do my thesis work in Marine Developmental Biology at the University of Bergen.
However, studying abroad isn’t in the cards for everyone. If not, it is all the more important that you make meaningful international connections and strengthen your language skills. The Fish Biology master is an international course taught almost exclusively in English. It is open to all students with an English Skill Level of C1 or higher.
During my time, this set-up had attracted lots of international folks, creating an enriching learning atmosphere. I vividly remember accounts of rice-fish farms in Bangladesh or pacu fisheries in Brazil being shared during class discussions. Furthermore, I have greatly benefited from utilizing and constantly improving my ‘academic’ English, which is an essential step in launching an internationally oriented career.