Meet Ann Marie Macara, Marine Educator at Marine Science Institute

Ann Marie Macara, Marine Educator at Marine Science Institute

Describe what you do on a day-to-day basis.

The best part about my job is that I can’t describe an average day! However, the overall goal of working as a marine educator is to engage students of all ages (pre-K to college level) and economic backgrounds with local marine life. I lead hands-on programs through our aquarium at the institute, as well as deliver live animals directly to the classroom at schools around the Bay Area. Additionally, I guide students through educational outdoor experiences including at local beaches, marshes, creeks, and tide pools.

How did you find your first job out of academia?

I applied to many, many places. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in science education and communication but I also really wanted to work outside preferably with a focus on marine biology. Luckily, there were quite a few places that aligned well with my interests in the Bay Area so I knew that this was a feasible goal in this particular region.

What is your favorite part of your current job?

I absolutely love working outside, rain or shine! And working at an aquarium is a dream come true. Plus, there’s nothing quite as fantastic as holding a baby Leopard Shark!

What are the unique challenges of this line of work?

I really enjoy the challenge of teaching a wide range of students. Teaching is like a puzzle; every day you need to problem solve and be extremely flexible to figure out what works best to engage each student.

Tell us about your academic background (describe your science at an undergraduate level)

I got my B.S. in Animal Physiology from the University of Toronto. Throughout college and a couple of years after, I worked in a research lab where I maintained the mouse colony. I have recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a Ph.D. focused on how the environment shapes animal behavior. I used Drosophila melanogaster larvae as a model to investigate how environmental stressors, such as painful stimuli, modify brain development. Remarkably, insects display a complex variety of behaviors that resemble our own. Now my goal as a teacher is to strengthen these connections and build empathy for all life in my students.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone looking for a job now?

My practical advice is to apply, apply, apply. Expect a lot of rejection but don’t accept it; learn from your failures and keep pushing towards your goal.

My general advice is to find your mentors, the people who will support your journey and ambitions. Don’t let other’s expectations guide your path. There is a lot of stigma for leaving academia, especially for those who choose to pursue teaching careers. Define what success means to you. Remember that you and only you are in control of your life.

For those looking to pursue teaching I would recommend becoming involved in outreach programs at your school or locally, as well as actively seeking out undergraduate course teaching opportunities to build your experience. Talk to those around you – for example, make informational interviews with faculty in the education departments, museums, etc. Use your school’s resources – create an outreach program or build an exhibit. Take advantage of the fact you are in graduate school!

Most importantly, along the way on your journey, learn to recognize opportunities and take advantage of them when they are presented.

 

You can learn more about Ann Marie on LinkedIn.

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