Jack James studied Marine Biology graduating in 2003; he then went on to complete a PhD in Aquaculture. He is currently the Head of Research and Development at AquaBioTech Group.
Why did you decide to study at Swansea University?
I grew up in Cardigan in West Wales but was living in Norfolk when I applied for university. My desire was to return to Wales, and as I was interested in Marine Biology, and was a native of the southern parts of Wales, I decided Swansea was the sensible option.
What did you enjoy most about the course?
Anything fishy! I enjoyed anything which involved studying fish, their behaviour and exploitation. So this was essentially any course run by Dr. John Lancaster, who I have remained in contact with since finishing my time at Swansea. Of course I also enjoyed the social side of life at Swansea, meeting a lot of people, some of whom have become close (if geographically distant) friends.
What are you doing now?
After graduating in 2003, I got a 12 weeks internship thanks to GoWales to work at the new Centre for Sustainable Aquaculture Research (CSAR). After my internship finished, I was kept on and became the first full time member of technical staff. From this I was offered a funded PhD by Dr. Robin Shields, and completed this in 2009. I continued to work for a time at CSAR, and as a demonstrator and teaching assisting at the University.
In 2010 I took a position at Aden Production in Cardiff working on an S4C wildlife documentary and a BBC 2 Wales bird documentary, both presented by Iolo Williams.
Later in 2010 I took a position as Recirculating Aquaculture System Farm Manager culturing eels in Mananjary on the East coast of Madagascar. I did this for a year before returning to the UK for a year of travelling (Mauritius, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, and New York) and working for a while under Dr. Shields again at CSAR in a post-doctoral position assisting in the start-up of the Ocean acidification project.
I am now Head of Research and Development at the AquaBioTech Group in Malta, a position I accepted in September 2011. In this position I am responsible for designing experiments, carrying out research, managing projects and coordinating internships in the research and development (R&D) department, as well as finding new clients and growing our market presence. The research is a mixture of commercial contracted R&D as well as European funded projects, all related to aquaculture, from fish feed and vaccine development, through to ecotoxicology and algal technology. I manage technical staff and interns, producing research of the highest quality under biosecure and scientifically rigorous conditions.
What attracted you to working in this field?
I have always been interested in marine biology and in particular fish. After completing my first degree I almost stumbled into aquaculture thanks to the opportunity that GoWales and Dr. Shields gave me, but I am now a fully-fledged aquaculturist with production and research experience.
How has Swansea University and your course helped you with your career?
A combination of two degrees, an internship, work experience and good contacts and friendships has been the main contribution Swansea made my career – so I essentially have Swansea University to thank for everything!
What advice do you have for current students and new graduates?
My main piece of advice to current students would be to get the balance right – love the course you are studying and live life at the same time. In addition, don’t be afraid of speaking up, building relationships with lecturers and researchers, and becoming more involved in university and course life. These people and these experiences will set the path for your career.
To new graduates I would say think carefully about what you want to do next. From my position as Head of R&D, in which I see a lot of peoples CVs, I would recommend you try to get a mix of practical experience and academic training if you plan to go into your chosen industry rather than academia – there are vast numbers of people with Masters degrees and no experience of real work, and these more often than not lose out to people with a healthy mix of the two.
What are your memories of Swansea?
Diving with SUSA in Cornwall and Egypt; Millport field studies course; friends and good times; hard work; years of fun demonstrating with Dr. John Lancaster, Dr. Jon Houghton (now at Queens Belfast) and Prof. Andy Rowley; being the first member of staff in a leading research centre: the Ospreys; long days on the Gower.