Graduated: BSc Ecology with a Year Abroad
Company: Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas)
Occupation: Phytoplankton Taxonomist
Since graduating in 2006, Katy Owen has pursued a burgeoning research career in ecology, seeing her at the forefront of her area of science.
Please tell us about your career so far
After graduation, I worked at the John Innes Centre as a research assistant in molecular biology, before taking up a position as a phytoplankton taxonomist at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas). I am now in the third year of a PhD based between UEA and Cefas, where I combine cutting-edge technology and extensive marine fieldwork in the North Sea in order to research microscopic plankton populations. I spend a lot of time on research vessels collecting data at sea, and testing protocols back on land in the lab, combined with travelling to European countries such as France and the Netherlands for conferences and collaborations.
What was it like studying ecology at UEA?
I chose to study ecology specifically because of the breadth of subject areas covered within the degree course. I was able to learn aspects of a range of subjects from environmental chemistry to marine biology – something which was really helpful in getting a job after graduation. It gave me the flexibility I needed to apply for a wide range of roles within the field, and helped me to stand out against other graduates with more narrow or specific training.
Why did you decide to study at UEA?
It was an easy choice – the high quality science produced by groups within UEA, combined excellent research facilities, set in a great location put UEA miles ahead of any competitors. It was so good I came back to do a PhD!
What did you think about your lecturers, teaching and the facilities?
Great – I particularly enjoyed a wide range of guest lecturers from environmental and conservation organisations, and external research bodies. There was also plenty of fieldwork where we got to apply knowledge gained in the lab in environments ranging from the Norfolk Broads to Kenya.
Tell us how you got your first job after university
My first job was at the John Innes Centre. I started out doing practical work as a part-time technician growing experimental plant populations in greenhouses, but the training I received at UEA allowed me to take on greater responsibility as required. I was promoted to a full-time laboratory research assistant, managing a large-scales reverse genetics screening project. I went from cultivating seedlings to DNA extraction and sequencing within the space of a year.
Has your course helped you in your career so far?
Definitely – whilst at UEA I took advantage of the opportunity to spend a year abroad at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Whilst there I was able to spend three months at a marine biological research station, where I was completely immersed in the subject, and conducted independent research projects. This definitely gave me the edge when applying for jobs in marine biology, and played a big part in getting my second job after graduation at Cefas.
What has been your greatest achievement in your career so far?
Winning a competition for young researchers, and getting the opportunity to talk about my work to MPs at the House of Commons last March have been my greatest achievements so far. Completing my PhD next year will also be a huge milestone for me.