[MARMAM] Unpaid positions in marine mammal science
rwallace at ursinus.edu
Mon Jul 20 04:44:29 PDT 2020
This has been an enormously helpful dialogue, and my thanks to everyone who has contributed, and especially to Eiren for initiating.
I am in the camp that believes that unpaid internships are more hurtful than helpful, in the ways that Eiren and her colleagues’ letter explains. I have spent the past 19 years teaching at a small liberal arts college where I am the only “marine mammal person” on the faculty. My marine mammals course and research projects attract every interested biology, marine science, and environmental studies student who graces our campus, and as a result I have taught many first generation and lower-income students over the years (which comprise a significant percentage of our student body—we are not a typical private college in that respect; most of our students work multiple jobs during college in order to afford to be here. They are tired and stressed and working their butts off to achieve their academic goals.). These students turn to me to help them initiate their careers in marine science and conservation. Though it is just my individual experience, I can say unequivocally that most of my students are excluded from the career-boosting benefits of unpaid internships, and many of them end up in other fields out of college as a result of the failure of the marine mammal science and conservation community to provide means of support to help these students get started. It’s the same calculus as choosing a grad school on the basis of the amount of aid you are awarded. For my students, it’s not a decision: you simply have to follow the money. And that is much more true now, with the often crippling amounts of student debt that so many carry, than it was in my day, or when Paul was teaching most of his students at Scripps.
Finally, I’ll note that as I worked my way through grad school, I got my start in the marine mammal field thanks to a paid internship at the Marine Mammal Commission 30 years ago this summer—the stipend for which my mentor and then MMC executive director John Twiss felt was his moral duty to provide. (Remember that most federal internships in the U.S. are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act, as are internships at nonprofit organizations.) For me, had John not offered that stipend, I would not have been able to take the internship—a summer that led directly to John offering me a job out of grad school, which led directly to my doctoral dissertation, which led to a career in which I have now taught many hundreds of students the joys of marine mammal science, policy, and conservation.
I know this is all just anecdotal personal experience, but I can’t overstate the importance that this issue has played in my life as a student and teacher, so I wanted to share.
Thanks for listening and I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy.
Richard L. Wallace, Ph.D.
Professor of Environmental Studies and Marine Science
Director, Food Studies Program
Co-Director, Whittaker Environmental Research Station
Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative
P Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail.
[A picture containing drawing Description automatically generated]<https://www.ursinus.edu/academics/environmental-studies/>
From: MARMAM <marmam-bounces at lists.uvic.ca> on behalf of Eric Archer - NOAA Federal <eric.archer at noaa.gov>
Date: Monday, July 20, 2020 at 7:15 AM
To: "marmam at lists.uvic.ca" <marmam at lists.uvic.ca>
Subject: Re: [MARMAM] Unpaid positions in marine mammal science
Scripps Institution of Oceanography (where Paul Dayton has been based and done his groundbreaking work in the field) was established in 1903. It became part of the University of California, San Diego in 1912. I, an African American, entered the Marine Biology program in 1990 and defended my Ph.D. in 1996. Since that time, I have stayed in the San Diego area, working at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center which is located on the SIO campus. About five years ago, I became an adjunct professor at SIO.
About a decade ago, I became curious about the history of diversity at SIO and started asking around. As best as I can tell, I was the first African American Marine Biology PhD at SIO. Since then, I've been trying to pay attention and have been aware of only two others since that time, with similar numbers in the sister Biological Oceanography program. Let's be generous and say that I've missed a couple. That's still only two handfuls at most. For the record, I'm also unaware of another Black faculty member in MB at SIO. Ever. Here<https://scripps.ucsd.edu/people/faculty#D> is the current list of SIO faculty.
How then do we reconcile the magnitude of minority interns and the good for diversity in the field in Paul's description with the striking lack of diversity at the top of the field? We need to pay attention to outcomes at every level. It is clear that the pipeline is broken in several places. This issue of unpaid internships is only one of them.
I want to clearly state that I have the utmost respect for all of the points of view that have been expressed during this discussion as well as their authors. Paul Dayton and Phil Clapham have been role models to me and both have been influential in my career. I knew Eiren Jacobsen as a student at SIO and admired her skills. I think everybody in this debate is well-intentioned and truly wants to help improve the situation. In order to do that, we have to keep talking openly and respectfully listening to each other.
On Thu, Jul 16, 2020 at 5:01 AM Paul Dayton <pdayton at ucsd.edu<mailto:pdayton at ucsd.edu>> wrote:
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.
Unpaid positions in marine mammal science
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.
MARMAM mailing list
MARMAM at lists.uvic.ca<mailto:MARMAM at lists.uvic.ca>
Eric Archer, Ph.D. (he/him/his)
Program Leader, Marine Mammal Genetics Group: swfsc.noaa.gov/mmtd-mmgenetics<http://swfsc.noaa.gov/mmtd-mmgenetics>
Southwest Fisheries Science Center (NMFS/NOAA)
8901 La Jolla Shores Drive
La Jolla, CA 92037 USA
Adjunct Professor, Marine Biology
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
University of California, San Diego
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