What to study if you want to work on ocean challenges

Originally from Belgium, Jurgen has always loved the ocean and adventure – during his travels he’s worked as a PADI Divemaster and as a volunteer for Coastguard New Zealand and Marine Rescue WA. He shares with us his experience of studying a Master of Ocean Leadership (MOL) at UWA.

Master of Ocean Leadership Students

What’s your educational and professional background?

I’ve had a varied career path, but I’m a teacher by trade in human sciences, history and earth sciences. I was also a logistic director in events for 10 years. Since leaving Belgium, I’ve worked on farms and vineyards, but I’ve also worked as a PADI Divemaster in Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia. I’ve also been a St John Emergency Medical Technician and a volunteer for the Fire and Rescue Service, Coastguard New Zealand and Marine Rescue WA. I’ve also tried to stay up to date and have completed a number of short courses on topics such as Humanitarian Law, Crisis and Conflict, Tropical Coastal Ecosystems and Carbon Capture and Storage.

Jurgen diving 

Was there anything that surprised you about the course?

The quality of the lecturers. Most are at the top of their respective fields and conducting world-class marine research at UWA Oceans Graduate School and Oceans Institute. Moreover, they are really approachable and keen to help!

What’s a day in the life of an Ocean Leadership student like?

At the beginning of the degree, you’re mostly learning a lot from different ocean-related fields to build up an overview of the various governance frameworks and ecological and environmental challenges facing our oceans. So it is a lot of research, reading and compiling of information to find out the links between fields and how to use them efficiently. You’re also building up a network with specialists across disciplines and creating connections.

Later in the course, you’re more involved in discussions, meetings and through making connections you get field work opportunities that help you better understand how to collect, extract and interpret data. A typical day for me now is going to classes and working as research assistant for one of my lecturers – learning more about coastal oceanography and going out in the field using instruments to collect data.

Jurgen doing field work

I’m also working on a research project with the Wernberg Lab on kelp forests restoration, identifying governance barriers and gaps and collaborating with marine ecologists around the world. At the same time I’m also working for industry, applying what I’m learning into real situations and discovering how to develop innovative approaches to coastal developments. My days are busy, but it is genuinely great to be surrounded by so many experts that are working together to make things better.

Jurgen with kelp research project

What is the best thing about the course? And the most challenging?

The best and most challenging feature of the Master of Ocean Leadership (MOL) is the multidisciplinary nature of the course. I personally find it incredible to gradually build up knowledge across many different fields. You’ll be learning across a whole number of disciplines like biology, marine science, engineering, law, resource economics and more. It is challenging at first, but quickly opens so many doors and options that it becomes the best part of the course.

Why is the study of Ocean Leadership important?

I personally see the MOL as the missing piece between many study areas such as marine science, environmental and offshore engineering, law, economics and more. The world has many experts in all these areas, but we are sometimes missing people to link them, people to broaden the view and challenge the status quo. Through the MOL you gain an understanding of how different disciplines, like science and governance, need to work together to tackle issues facing our oceans. We’re learning how to lead and manage multidisciplinary projects.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

I’m still deciding, but I’m definitely interested in pursuing a multidisciplinary PhD in an ocean-related field and afterwards I would like to work part-time in research and part-time for industry. I want to build up more knowledge across different fields to create innovative and out-of-the-box solutions for the challenges facing our oceans.

Any advice for someone considering studying Ocean Leadership?

Make sure you’re comfortable being out of your comfort zone! Working across multiple fields simultaneously can be challenging. But business as usual is what led us to the global environmental crisis today – so we need to step outside of our existing framework to work together on the solutions. Within this degree you get the opportunity to challenge the status quo and find new ways of working.


Interested to see where a Master of Ocean Leadership could take you? Explore the course information.

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