Since studying as an international student in Adelaide at Flinders University in 2009 I have been interested in studying and working with marine mammals and more specifically within cetaceans. After graduating in July 2011, I moved to Vancouver to volunteer at the Vancouver Aquarium teaching intertidal marine biology and also working at their off-site marine mammal rescue center. While there, I had the opportunity to work with the rehabilitation of stranded harbor seals and I also was extremely lucky to be able to help extensively with the rehabilitation of a very small juvenile harbor porpoise.
I then spent three months as an intern at Cetacea Lab on a remote island in Northern British Columbia to gain research experience on humpback, fin and killer whales. It was while at Cetacea Lab I developed an interest in the Northern Resident Orca and since that point I have been interested in research on killer whales.
When I first made the decision to return to university for graduate school I spent a considerable amount of time seeking out universities across the world that would allow me to undertake either a specific marine mammals program or a marine biology program with faculty currently working in cetacean research. When I decided to apply to Fulbright I had already spent some time researching schools that had reputable marine biology programs all over the United States. Having wanted to specialize in cetaceans for some time, I knew that only RSMAS provided a masters program specifically on marine mammals. After researching further into the MPS program and finding out that it was a condensed program that could be completed in one year with an internship, I knew that it was the program that I wanted to attend.
What does it mean to be a Fulbright scholar? Well in terms of official requirements to apply I had to meet certain criteria set out by the Fulbright commission. These included:
- demonstrable ambassadorial skills with evidence of cultural sensitivity and a genuine desire to learn more about the United States and share with American citizens aspects of British culture,
- experience and interest in a range of extracurricular and community activities,
- leadership potential, and a desire to further the Fulbright Program and give back to your home country upon returning.
Further to this the commission looks for students who show academic excellence and students who have no prior experience living in the United States.
What does it mean to be a Fulbright scholar personally? To me it is a great honor to be selected as a postgraduate scholar as the UK-US program is one of the most competitive exchange programs in the world. To know that 43 previous Fulbright scholars have gone on in their careers to be awarded a Nobel Prize is a great inspiration to me.
I ultimately chose to attend RSMAS as a Fulbright scholar because I felt the marine mammal science program would give me the best opportunity to gain the knowledge and practical experience required to pursue a career in cetacean research. The option to take an internship instead of writing a research thesis appealed to me as I have already undertaken different levels of research and felt that I would benefit more from a practical work placement. Also, being on an exclusively marine science campus was also a big draw for me.
– Aaron Kirkpatrick, MPS student, marine mammal track