June 2022 OES Beacon

Townhall on connecting ECOPs with Academia, Industry and Best Practices

Hari Vishnu and Venugopalan Pallayil 

The IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society (OES) organized a Town Hall at the Ocean Sciences Meeting 2022. The event, “TH04: Connecting Early Career Ocean Professionals with Academia, Industry, Philanthropy and Technical societies” was held on 25 Feb 2022, from 9:00 AM to 10:00 AM U.S. Eastern Standard Time. The aim of this forum was to enable interaction between early career ocean professionals (ECOPs) and leading researchers, academics, engineers and industry experts who are solution-providers. This Town Hall stemmed from the idea that one of the key things we want to achieve in the ongoing UN Decade of Ocean Sciences is more coordination and communication between ECOPs and the experienced practitioners of Ocean knowledge. ECOPs are going to take over and continue this movement beyond the span of this 10 years, and to keep the momentum going, more ECOPs need to be inspired to join this movement and take up or continue careers in Ocean science and related fields.

The panelists during the QnA session.

The event started off with a pre-event survey, followed by an introduction by the moderators Dr. Hari Vishnu, Chief Editor of IEEE OES Earthzine magazine and an ECOP with OES, and Dr. Venugopalan Pallayil, the vice-president of technical activities at OES. The moderators introduced IEEE OES, and its involvement in the Decade and with ECOPs. The 6 panelists were

  • Justin Manley, Founder of Just Innovation, Co-founder of Seahawk Robotics.
  • Eric Delory, Head, Oceanic Platform of the Canary Islands.
  • Rich Patterson, Director of Sales at Kongsberg Maritime.
  • Evgeniia Kostiania, Ocean Decade Global ECOP program coordinator & Consultant at IOC-UNESCO.
  • Jochen Klinke, Director of Science at Seabird Scientific.
  • Virginie Van Dongen-Vogels and Cora Horstmann, ECOPs representative from Ocean Best-practices system
Pre-event poll for Townhall showed that 76% of the attendees were ECOPs.

The event was attended by 67 participants. A pre-event poll survey revealed 76% of them were ECOPs (visible in the screenshot).

To the survey question of “What are the important areas the community needs to tackle to encourage ECOPs to advance their career in Ocean sciences”, and the most overwhelming need highlighted by the audience was that of career opportunities, followed by Funding and Access to Networks/Contacts (see screenshot). The need for training was also highlighted. In line with this, many of the panelists spoke about topics very much in line with what the participants identified as areas of interest.

The 6 panelists along with moderators included two representatives each from academia, industry, technical societies and ECOP group representatives, and Justin also brought expertise from the side of philanthropic organizations. The panelists all spoke for 5 minutes each, many of them highlighting existing opportunities are resources for ECOPs to use to further their expertise, to apply for funding or ship time, to participate in competitions, and to get more awareness on Ocean sciences in general, or on the ECOP program for spreading word on the Decade. There were also representatives from the Ocean Best Practices group, who highlighted the importance of creating and observing best practices in Ocean science. During the talks, many questions were asked of the panelists via the chat box which were answered immediately. After the talks, the moderators also posed a few questions to the panelists, such as what the requirements of industry would be that ECOP training programs could focus on boosting in the coming Decade. Most of the feedback from the industry was that networking skills are important, and that applying for industry jobs requires very different skillsets than that for an academic job. For example, it requires an applicant to showcase how he/she can practically demonstrate the learned skills in the field. Some audience members asked how they could get involved in the Decade or specific regional nodes, which Evgeniia promptly answered with relevant links to the ECOP program. Panelists listed out internship and research opportunities for ECOPS and graduate students in their organizations and asked interested ECOPS and students to get in touch with them.

Snapshot from the Townhall event, during Dr. Eric Delory’s talk

The event wrapped up in 75 minutes, and received good feedback from the audience. The video of the event will be uploaded and made available at the OSM event page (https://osm2022.secure-platform.com/a/solicitations/3/sessiongallery/schedule/items/922) for up to 6 months, for those who registered for the conference.

There was a Q&A session at the end, meant to be a discussion amongst the audience and panelists. Some of the questions asked by the audience/moderators, and the replies from the speakers, are listed below:

Q: (to Evgeniia) I am interested in joining Canada’s regional node as an ECOP, how can I do this?

Evgeniia: Many thanks for your interest! Definitely reach out to the ECOP Programme Canadian team – there are a few people working to develop that branch. We are still (globally) in our development stage but if you are interested in joining our team, reach out to me at ecop.oceandecade@gmail.com for any further discussion on this.

Q: I wonder how someone post-PhD can work with the organization as a full-time career? I know I want to work at the intersection of science and policy following my program, and am therefore actively connecting myself with non-profits and industry to ensure that.

Justin: There are strong “clusters” of ocean science and technology in Canada. Halifax and Vancouver are home to many companies and organizations. Feel free to reach out and I can help make introductions. Also, potential networking around Ottawa and in Newfoundland.

Q: What are some ways I could get involved in these organizations early on as a junior in high school?

Evgeniia: One way would be to see whether your high school has any environmental clubs or societies and join their work. This often includes various activities, maybe clean-ups or some outdoors presentations. In your town/city there might be citizen science projects aimed at ocean awareness, etc. Search out for them. Think about what your passion is and how this can be linked to marine protection – your imagination is the limit. You can be a photographer, an IT specialist, journalist, etc., and contribute incredibly to the marine protection! Hope this helps!

Q: For those in industry, how does the hiring process differ in industry when compared to academia? What do those hiring for industry positions look for in candidates that may differ from academic search committees?

Justin: Industry hiring will look more for practical demonstrations of skills vs theoretical outcomes. By way of example, a scientific publication is very different from a marketing brochure. So, showing how one can translate technical wiring skills to new uses would be helpful. Also, industry roles will usually be more connected to direct application of science and technology. Even in R&D departments the goal is to bring solutions to practice or discover new ideas that can be commercialized. This may require an adjustment of outlook vs. an academic role

Jochen: To be additive to what Justin mentions, soft skills are also something we look for, as team work is at the heart of what we do here at SBS.

Justin: Industry jobs are often discussed at trade shows and conferences that may not be familiar to academics. There is a lot of value to in person networking to build an industry career. Also moving between companies is common and accepted.

Richard: I’m not sure there are a lot of differences between academia and industry with respect to hiring.  Both will post openings on their web sites, but industry also typically uses the typical job websites such as Indeed, Career Builder, Ladders, etc.  One other difference is that industry often uses AI to wade through candidates to narrow down the search.  Both groups are going to look for personnel that have the right skill sets for sure but don’t underestimate how important it also is for a good “fit” with respect to chemistry.  Soft skills can be just as important as your education and experience.

Q (Hari): Evgeniia mentioned connecting ECOPs with industry. My question to industry is: What do you think ECOPs joining the industry need, and where do you think the ECOP program can help in this regard? Things like job portals already exist (maybe we can improve on them), but anything else? Evgeniia, feel free to add on.

Evgeniia: Thank you for bringing this up. We are indeed interested in listening feedback from the industry on how we can develop the ECOP program to better assist ECOPs in applying to jobs or finding them, or preparing better job portals.

Jochen: One thing we are looking for is diversity in the talent group, for example, for our work at Seabird. Very important to integrate spectrum of diversity, and we need to understand the needs for future scientists in this friend

Richard: Agreed, diversity is important. Main thing I would say is: finding a mentor, whether it’s a professor in a university involved in things you’re passionate about, or something like that, is a great way to start. And he would have a good network to start off, and he would have contacts in industry. Developing those contacts early is important for ECOPs so they can see early on the type of skillsets industry is looking for, and actively developing those in school and when they apply for internships. So networking is fairly important.

Hari: Thank you for that. In fact, I recollect that networking was also one of the needs mentioned in the polls.

Venu: To me, seems like there are quite a few opportunities for ECOPs, and now it’s just a matter of them being engaged.

Q (Hari): On Funding, Evgeniia, do you know what can be done to ease the flow of funding to ECOPs to test their research ideas or give test-beds or something like that, and is the ECOP program able to facilitate some part of this, apart from some of the competitions and awards that Justin mentioned?

Evgeniia: Funding is still a crucial point. We had a global survey 2 years ago which showed this, and so did this survey. The ECOP program has got funding to facilitate trainings. We haven’t gotten funding for specific projects yet, but this is something we will be looking into in the future (We were approved in June and are just in our first year of development right now). As a global program, we have been thinking global, but we have come to understand that we need to contact regional funders too and how it ties into their needs for their region of operation. We will of course, update on the portals when any funding is available in the future.

Q (Venu): How can we get ECOPs in and interested in joining this kind of programs to facilitate the UN Decade programs? Can each of the speakers shed some light on this specific aspect?  How do we motivate them to get engaged?

Rich: When I was in my school years, the reason I got interested in science and tech, and one of the biggest reasons, was the teachers I had. He opened my eyes and was really enthusiastic. So that has to happen early on, and hopefully some of these young people out there have teachers that inspire them. But I also think programs around the world like the robotic competition you are doing (Singapore AUV Challenge) would be really important to engage the younger folks. What I like about these programs is that they are open to high school students, too. I think it’s important to continue the type of programs you (OES) have been involved in.

Jochen: As Richard mentioned, mentorship is definitely something important for this. I was lucky to have a mentor early on in my career to get me hooked to industry, and I didn’t realize that was important at that time. But I had made the contacts and kept them alive, which helped me make the entry to industry. I would say, don’t be hesitant to reach out to industry for mentorship. You can just on an ad hoc basis. We are doing one like that with pH sensor development, and someone wanted to know what the state of the art is. So, feel free to reach out to us (industry).

Cora: Agreed it’s better to bring the generations closer together and get mentorship. ECOPs are the ones facing problems in lab and at sea, and they need to know where to further investigate and improve. Mentorship would be beneficial for both sides, and the Decade is a great opportunity to achieve this.

Venu: Eric, can you give an input on standardization practices undertaken, going on and required in ocean engineering (apart from the OBP)?

Eric: So far in the data-acquisition chain, there’s a lot of emphasis on the FAIRness of data – findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable data. There’s a need for implementation standards, some of them already exist and are adopted in ocean and earth observation communities. Critical ones used/developed include, for e.g. NetCDF files – these are de-facto community standards. There are communication standards, which are also necessary for inter-operability of sensors. The OGC Open GeoSMS Standard has worked a lot and is adopted, but adoption pace and integration of new standards is slow-paced as the technology has to adapt. E.g., RS-232 is still a standard comms protocol used even though it is 30 years old. Some new physical comms protocols are being used too. The internet-of-things will probably require automated data flow so new standards will come in place in the future.

Overall, this was a very fruitful session and very personally satisfying for us, the organizers. We believe it was one step forward in furthering the dialogue between ECOPs and Ocean professionals, and we hope more such events may be organized with specific focus points in the future.