[MARMAM] From the MARMAM Editors: anonymous postings from the unpaid internship discussion
marmameditors at gmail.com
Fri Jul 31 12:17:21 PDT 2020
Dear MARMAM Community,
These are the two anonymous postings we previously mentioned. The
entirety of each posting has been copied into this one posting.
Neither posting has been edited in any way.
The MARMAM Editors
Dear MARMAN community,
I am an early career scientist from an underrepresented minority who is
currently an unpaid intern. I have been disheartened by the status quo of
unpaid experience in the field for several years. I am reaching out in
response to Phil Clapham and Paul Dayton, both of whom dismiss critical
discussions to reform a system from which they continue to benefit, and who
are biased by their interactions with success stories: like Eric Archer
suggests, we do not hear from those who had to choose putting food on the
table over contributing to a field they love. Here, I offer a perspective
from a contemporary unpaid worker. The expectation of unpaid work in marine
mammal science actively discourages bright, passionate, and hardworking
students, especially minorities, from reaching their potential and bringing
valuable insights to our field.
Of all the disciplines in biology, ecology and evolution remains a
sub-field with especially poor racial diversity (e.g. O’Brien et al. 2020,
Social Psychology of Education). Phil Clapham pins the crux of the issue on
a lack of early exposure to science, yet marine mammals are undeniably
charismatic and interesting to the public. Surely, if interest from middle
school students was the main cause of underrepresentation in MARMAM, we
should at least be doing as well as the field of molecular biology (with
its core concepts that are much harder to comprehend) in terms of
diversity. Middle schoolers dreaming of becoming marine biologists was so
common in my generation that it became a cliché. We should absolutely
strive for greater public engagement with science, but a lack of interest
from young students is certainly not the greatest barrier to entry for
minorities entering our field.
I have worked unpaid alongside two types of people who are serious about
marine mammal research: those who are supported by their families while
they work without pay, and those who must find ways to support themselves.
It is not uncommon for the former to spend over a year gaining a diversity
of (often international) consecutive experiences, while the latter saves up
money for years to afford to work for free for a few months, then repeats
the cycle again (assuming that they have not moved on by this point). As
someone who fits more into the latter group, I do not see how I can compete
with the former, especially given that paid job postings demand years, not
weeks or months of direct experience. Not to mention the sheer
impossibility of working unpaid while being financially responsible for
other family members! Unfortunately, members of racial minorities
disproportionately find themselves in this position regardless of their
grit or competence. I am glad Paul Dayton has mentored minority students
during his tenure, but I suspect that he has interacted with exceptions,
not the rule. The staff pages of research institutions do not show the
diversity that he claims exists, and I am inclined to believe Eric Archer,
an actual Black marine scientist, when he affirms the existence of these
Phil Clapham rightly points out that many research programs struggle for
funding, but when I think of “small underfunded non-profits,” my mind does
not go to prestigious institutions like the Smithsonian or Scripps. To put
it bluntly, if even these organisations are barely scraping by and relying
on unpaid workers to complete essential tasks, maybe we need to rethink our
models for conducting research. Perhaps a diversity of solutions are
needed, but it is absolutely an urgent discussion that we should be having
openly, and I appreciate that Eiren Jacobson’s letter has brought the issue
of unpaid work to the forefront. Even more modest initiatives, like capping
the number of volunteer hours allowed per week or ensuring that full-time
field work at least covers living expenses can make a big difference to
would-be applicants. Some smaller organisations may well have no choice but
to rely on “internship fees,” but let us call it what it is: edutourism or
We all chose to be marine scientists because we love and want to protect
the ocean. Not one of us is a scientist because it is lucrative, but if we
want new and interesting perspectives, entrants to the field must be able
to make a living. The plight of marine mammals grows more urgent every day,
and we desperately need a diversity of expertise if we are to tackle these
global issues. That starts with finding ways to encourage historically
excluded members of society to meaningfully participate in research and
outreach, beyond a short volunteer stint. I want to remind those who think
this is a minority opinion that people in my position are not likely to
speak out for fear of alienating those we want to work with. I truly hope
to one day work to improve the field from the inside, but for now I have no
choice but to focus on a backup career plan because unfortunately, I cannot
survive on great mentorship and passion alone.
Good morning MARMAM Administrators,
Thank you for what you do for all of us within this community. It is
important work and I am grateful.
I am not sure if Students are permitted to offer insight to the current
conversation regarding unpaid internships but if so, I would like to offer
Your words are being read, we the future of this field are watching and
offer some advice.
Be careful not to tokenize the experience of your unpaid interns that you
might claim were within the minority scope. Just because you struggled
personally and made it doesn’t mean that others should struggle as well.
Beyond this, be mindful of your privilege when making comparisons. As Dr.
Archer said, the voices of those who did not make it are not here to be
This is not a personal attack on your ability to care for interns but
rather an opportunity for our field to step up.
If there is a way to be more inclusive and care for your interns, why would
should we not explore this option?
Be careful not to qualify your words where you are unqualified to speak on
the experience and disproportional disparities that students and volunteers
within the Black, Indigenous or Person of Colour community must face.
Be wary of tone-policing, the use of DARVO, and/or amplifying your own
voice above those within the BIPOC community.
Thank you for your consideration.
*The MARMAM listserv is for the communication of marine mammal research and
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