[MARMAM] Unpaid positions in marine mammal science

Paul Dayton pdayton at ucsd.edu
Sun Jul 12 13:28:00 PDT 2020


Dear Lists people!

I would like to join Phil Clapham with a counter argument to the recent posting about unpaid positions in marine mammal science, but also all conservation!  I am not sure how to write to the Marmam list, but am pasting my letter and attaching it.  Please let me know if this is acceptable.  And I suspect most of you are unpaid volunteers as well, and I hope you  know that your work is appreciated if unsung.

Best regards and I wish you success avoiding this damned virus!  I have been stuck in this ancient house for 4 months going on 12 months I fear.

Paul Dayton

Unpaid positions in marine mammal science

 

Dear Friends,

 

I saw Phil Clapham’s note and learned that Eiren Jacobson was still pushing this issue. I write to offer another objection to this position and to urge the co-signers to reevaluate their support.  Phil offered the fact that much marine mammal work is done by relatively impoverished but highly idealistic organizations that would be severely impacted by the loss of volunteers. He also addressed the need to get people involved with marine mammals.  Here I hope to broaden his message about the use of volunteers to actually increase diversity in the field, and I hope to persuade you to consider this in the broader context of helping lower income and non-white people move into the field, rather than being excluded as Eiren erroneously argues. I urge those of you who signed the letter to reconsider your signatures to what I feel strongly is a misguided appeal to your sense of fair treatment of other people.

 In my case I am sure that over my 40+ year career I was responsible for well over 100 volunteers and I strongly reject the argument that they were exploited or that impoverished or minority people were unfairly excluded.  Very much to the contrary, in fact.  I believe that I received well over 15 requests a year over my 40 years of professorship and there were always volunteers in our lab, usually very well mentored by graduate students but always with me in the background supervising the situation. And as Phil mentioned, we started early as many of them started working for us when they were in high school.  They were never exploited, rather they were mentored and brought into marine ecology. Most of the interns in my lab were involved in general ecological research rather than marine mammals, but I was co-advisor or committee member to many marine mammal graduate students and most of them either came into the field via internships or used interns that came to me that I directed to the students. Many of these students have had successful careers in the marine mammal community, and they were damned good mentors. Some may see this letter and offer their own thoughts.

 Let me address the issue of diversity and class barriers.  Eiren’s assertion that this plays to the wealth and excludes those who cannot afford to be a volunteer.  Like Phil, I refer back to my own very impoverished undergraduate career working up to 35 hours a week to go to school.  I had no ecological direction and actually found low-paying jobs to be able to volunteer with ecology students in Chuck Lowe’s lab at Arizona. The only reason I have had this great career is thanks to the mentoring I received as an unpaid volunteer.  I subsequently took this experience to heart and accepted as many of the applicants as I could and made sure that they were well mentored. In many cases it was obvious from our interactions that they had no or very little family financial support, and as I got to know them I can attest that the vast majority were, like I had been, struggling to get through school and find a satisfying career.  I can say that in the last several decades most of the students were themselves minorities: African-Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, and first generation Americans or foreign students.

 But where Eiren really misses the boat is that most of these interns were so stimulated and well mentored that they switched majors and went into ecology.  Over my career I must have written hundreds of letters supporting these student’s graduate school or job applications, and dozens of them went on to advanced degrees and are now working in ecologically related fields. I suspect that almost all of these people now active in our general conservation field were not wealthy and many are minorities. Almost all of these have significant jobs in conservation efforts. And again, referring back to Phil’s letter, many of these interns were encouraged to interact with grade school kids and many are educating young people in their current jobs.  I have no words to describe my pride in the success of these unpaid volunteers.  Indeed, in the last 2 years, five of them have retired and have made an effort to track me down and thank me for taking them on in the 1970s!  Imagine your own pride if you too could receive such messages in your old age. Had Eiren’s position been in place, none of this would have happened. I have always said that I judge my own career by the students I have influenced, and emphatically this includes the interns and volunteers who have passed through my lab.

 Contrary to the assertions in the letter, these interns do not exacerbate the hideous and increasing wealth gap in the world, nor are they racially divisive; almost all of them serve to improve the status quo in the long run. Certainly, I can point to my own interns as counter examples to the odd claim that they are amplifying these problems. And given that probably almost all interns get intensive mentoring, they surely do not stifle innovation in our field (especially if one looks at the many success stories such as Phil’s magnificent career). Indeed, they enhance innovation, creativity and respect for nature.

 Eiren and I strongly disagreed about this when she was a student at Scripps. In response I wrote several of the past interns now gainfully employed, and all of them reiterated what I am asserting here, that their experience as unpaid interns changed their lives and was responsible for their success. And again, her assertions of not offering insurance protection, are like other assertions we see these days, is probably simply wrong. I feel sure that all the interns in academia and the government are in fact covered by their insurances. All of ours are covered.  I suspect that this is true of the majority of interns. I urge the readers and signers to learn the truth about the interns that are commonly involved in our various research activities.

 So, consider the reality of the world today and ask yourselves whether we need this sort of misguided controversy.  What we need are gentle, warm inclusive people with empathy for other people and compassion for nature.  We urgently need many more, not fewer, people helping society come to grasp with the need to nourish and care for nature. We need to attract all people into this struggle, and rather than attack those of us working toward this goal.  I believe we need more support.  I respectfully ask those of you signing on to this to reconsider.

 Sincerely

 Paul Dayton

 
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