Lauren Park-McCann is a current second year marine biology and coastal ecology student who has a love for all things nature.
She is the host of season two of the Plymouth Beneath the Surface podcast series, which aims to inform people about all the vast amount of marine life in Plymouth and tell stories about the people who dedicate their lives to the marine environment in some way, shape or form.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Lauren talks about the podcast series, the importance of science communication and the role of the civic scientist, why she wants to become a marine biologist and chose to study at Plymouth, as well as what the future may hold.
- Current BSc (Hons) Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology student
- Host of Plymouth Beneath the Surface podcast series, season two
In conversation with Lauren Park-McCann
Studying marine biology at Plymouth
What are your passions? What inspires you?
My main passion is finding out how the world works – that's why I love my degree so much. I also like to be outside, open water swimming, music, diving and chatting to people.
The main thing that inspires me is other people. I look at the achievements of others in either real life, on social media or hearing them on podcasts and it makes me think that I can do good things too if I work hard at it.
Why do you want to become a marine biologist?
I loved SpongeBob SquarePants as a child and I thought the sea was beautiful, so that was the original reason. However, now it is because I am aware of the threat that the marine environment and the planet as a whole is under.
It’s becoming increasingly important to understand how the marine environment and the organisms in it function and interact. The world is changing and without understanding the organisms and the complex interactions between them, their environment and the terrestrial environment, we won’t be able to introduce policy and make changes to protect them.
Why did you choose to study this course at Plymouth?
I chose to study marine biology at Plymouth rather than some of the other universities I looked at for multiple reasons. Firstly, I loved the city and the feeling I had when I first came here. It was the waterfront that sold it for me, I still think that it is the most beautiful waterfront in the UK. Secondly, the HSE commercial diving course was offered here and that wasn’t the case for any other universities. Finally, I met Professor Mark Briffa at an open day and he inspired me by how he taught and spoke about the marine environment.
What have been the highlights of the course so far? What are you looking forward to doing?
My highlight has been making a five-minute video about biogenic habitats for one of my second year modules.
I love being creative and coming up with ways of communicating research, so I really enjoyed coming up with the theme of our video and then directing it. It was a lot of fun.
Credit: Daisy Drury
Plymouth Beneath the Surface
What inspired you to takeover the podcast series Plymouth Under the Surface from season one host Louise-Océane Delion?
I am a podcast lover. I listen to podcasts daily, when I wake up, when I’m walking to University, making lunch, I even fall asleep to them!
I strongly believe in the importance of science communication but I have always found public speaking difficult. Last year I decided I wanted to improve in this area and I threw myself into presentation coursework. When the chance to take over the podcast came up I thought it was a very good opportunity to develop my verbal communication skills under pressure and learn editing skills. Louise helped me a lot at first and her guidance gave me the confidence to really get it up and running.
They have inspired me to take risks. Both have embarked on challenging, potentially dangerous expeditions and I think a lot can be learnt from their mindsets. I would like to be as fearless as they both are. It’s also inspiring that they are very normal people (if normal people decide to sail across the world and go to the arctic) and that means that I, and other people can do amazing, adventurous, out of the ordinary things, too.
The podcast series aims to inform people about the vast amount of marine life in Plymouth and tell stories about the people who dedicate their lives to the marine environment in some way shape or form. How important is it to have a platform to tell and exchange stories?
I feel very lucky to have a platform like this one – I have Louise to thank for that. I think that something like this is important to make sound science accessible to people and show that scientists are ordinary people who live ordinary lives.
Sometimes scientific papers and lectures can be quite intense and, at times, difficult so it is my aim, with the podcast, to have more relaxed conversations about science, and the personal stories of scientists, so students, marine biologists and anybody with an interest in the ocean can all listen and find value in it.
Marine biology effects everything around us so making it enjoyable and accessible is becoming more and more important.
What guests have you got lined up to appear?
Over the next few months I am hoping to interview some scientists from further afield. That isn’t to say I won’t be interviewing people in Plymouth but I think it would be nice going forward, especially for my fellow marine biology students here in Plymouth, to hear about people who work all around the world as well as the amazing people who work here.
One person I have hoped to interview since I started the podcast would be Yasmin Meeda who is a PhD student at the Marine Biological Association. Yasmin works looking at marine diatoms and how they sense and respond to changes in the environment.
I remember when I started my degree, I followed Yasmin's PhD page on Instagram and it was very inspiring. At the time I had just finished my A levels, and I wasn’t particularly proud of them, but I saw a post where Yasmin talked about her personal journey, retaking her A levels and then proceeding to get a first in her undergraduate degree and starting her PhD.
Yasmin is a big inspiration of mine not only because of the scientist she is, but because of her work in science communication, which is something I hold close to my heart.
If you could interview anybody in the world who would it be?
I hate to give a predictable answer, but it would be Sir David Attenborough. It would be great to talk about Blue Planet and his other documentaries.
However, I’d want to know more about other the things he does that are lesser known like being a patron of ‘population matters’ and supporting lots of different charities. There are so many charities to choose from that do amazing work so it would be interesting to find out how he chooses which ones to support when there are so many worthy causes.
Podcasts and the civic scientist
How important a role does the civic scientist play in today’s society in educating a wider audience, particularly around issues related to climate change?
They are just as important as the people who do the research. The people who conduct the science and the people who communicate the science to the public rely on each other for change to happen.
Because of the nature of a topic like climate change, it is everyone’s problem. It effects everyone’s lives and it will take everyone’s effort to begin to fix the problem. That said, not everyone has a scientific background, so having civic scientists who can communicate science that is understandable to a range of people is crucial.
People often have a misconception that science is difficult, but I don’t think that it always needs to be. It can be explained and adapted so everyone can understand it.
I think civic scientists play a crucial role in reducing misinformation in articles and on social media. Misinformation in the media is something that makes science even more inaccessible and illusive.
Fake news headlines and misleading articles can make people believe things about climate change that aren’t true, which can have devastating consequences for people and the world. Civic scientists are able to combat this.
How effective are podcasts for science communication?
Very! People can play them in their spare time and most often they can be accessed for free which is quite unique. People can pause it, listen when they’re doing other things and even relisten if they want to. That’s the beauty of them, their ease and accessibility. It’s for that reason that they are very effective at communicating science.
We don’t always have time to sit down to research or read about something of interest and podcasts are another way of accessing new information that demand less time and focus. That is not to say that podcasts can replace books and papers, but they can be a good introduction to topics and get people interested.
Do you have any role models – both in the worlds of marine biology, podcasting and anywhere else – you look up?
Alongside Yasmin Meeda, in marine biology I’m inspired daily by all my lecturers and the passion they have for the subject. In the podcasting world, I have recently started listening to Joe Rogan. What inspires me about him is he is not afraid to ask the ‘stupid questions’. This is something I have worried about in the past; however, they are often the questions the listeners want to know the answers to.
In my closer life, a family friend of mine is my biggest role model, without a doubt. He has been something of a mentor since I was a teenager. He is 84, has three degrees and a huge love for learning. He still does Duolingo every day, reads anything and everything, learns from other people and has even tried to get my brother to show him how to play FIFA on the Xbox. I think a desire to keep learning like he has is rare and when I’m 84 – I hope to be the same.
Do you have any advice for students wishing to follow you into a similar role?
I’m still learning myself but what I would say is to build skills in other areas. Art, editing, music, performing, languages, photography – anything!
I am learning more and more that these skills are valuable and can be applied to science even if you think they can’t. Everyone on your degree can do science but these other skills set you apart, are transferrable and give you a different outlook.
What do you hope to achieve within the next five years?
In the next five years I am hoping to have my degree, a masters degree and to have grown my podcast so it reaches more people. A paid job somewhere in the field of marine biology or ecology would be nice too.
Do you have a dream job?
I’m not sure yet. At the moment I am interested in going into research or some form of scientific communication. I think if you had asked me when I was younger, I would have fancied myself being somewhere warm saving plastic entangled dolphins and seals, but Plymouth has won me over.
BSc (Hons) Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology
Have you ever wondered why animals live where they do, why coral reefs are so diverse, or how to conserve our increasingly threatened marine life? This world-leading degree challenges you to ask these questions and more
You’ll access some of Europe’s best marine facilities, where our experts will help develop your skills on coasts packed with biodiversity