Watching over marine life: an interview with James Cook University graduate Jacqueline Tham

When you think about scientists, you’d usually think of someone who does work in the lab, handling precise equipment and dealing with experimental data and all that. On top of being skilled in the theoretical aspect, they’d surely also be proficient in practical work.

Now on top of that, imagine having to do client presentations (to entities that might or might not include governments), manage a team and oversee the daily operation and business development of your company. Wow. That’s no mean feat!

Yet these are precisely the duties of Jacqueline Tham, a Team Manager at Hydrobiology. Oh, and if you were wondering just what exactly she studied that made her so versatile, she was enrolled in Business and Environmental Science(a double major) in 2010. We spoke to her for a bit and here’s what she had to say about her choice back in the day.

Childhood passion, stars align

Jacqueline reveals that what she studied is perfectly aligned with her childhood passion — in other words, she’d always been interested in the marine sciences from her childhood days where she spent almost every Sunday at Pulau Hantu. Thus, it was only natural that this was what she sought to pursue after JC.

Of all the options out there, James Cook University had always been one of the best universities in the tropics for the marine sciences. Now, it just so happened that when she completed her A levels in 2010, the environmental science program was introduced into their Singapore campus!

Chancing upon this program, Jacqueline felt that it was quite unique because it was multi-disciplinary and would train her in both business and environmental science. In addition, she was also given the option to do a few semesters in the Townsville campus. With the lecturers flown in from overseas, she was basically not disadvantaged in terms of the syllabus compared to her Australian counterparts.

And what happened next is history. Jacqueline enrolled in the course and never looked back!

A challenging, fulfilling role

This is Jacqueline’s 9th year as a consultant in the marine and aquatic sciences, but only her fourth year at Hydrobiology. Impressively enough, she was a pioneer in her company!

“I joined Hydrobiology 4 years ago as the first employee and we have grown to the 6 local employees we have today,” Jacqueline reveals.

Naturally, both the environmental science and business aspects of Jacqueline’s university education are so very relevant to her current career.

Jacqueline elaborates, “The business side of my bachelors allowed me to better manage the organizational behaviour, entrepreneurship, finance and accounting and business development of my current company as these were some of the core business modules.”

That’s like a whole array of impressive-sounding high-level skills! We sought from Jacqueline some specific examples regarding her responsibilities and challenges faced on the business side.

Jacqueline shares that the various scientists may all endorse different solutions when it comes to approaching a problem. As a manager, she is the one to consider all their perspectives and come up with ‘the most effective approach within a reasonable budget for the client’.

Jacqueline elaborates, “It may sound easy, but it is definitely not easy trying to convince the other scientists why a certain approach is the better option.”

That certainly sounds like it could be daunting! And what of the environmental science side?

Well, technical skills such as marine taxonomic knowledge, field experience and Geographic Informatics Systems (GIS) are touted by her as ‘key skills that all marine scientists should have’, been indispensable to her current role.

On the topic of GIS, Jacqueline reminisces on an inspirational lecturer she once had who flew in from the Townsville campus to teach it to them.

While it was to be taught over three months, they had an intensive two-week GIS module stretching from 9am to 6pm everyday in the lab. This being an exam module, many of the students would stay back till 9pm daily to better max out their resources, including the facilities provided and the lecturer’s time. Jacqueline was impressed at how the lecturer would stay on with the class despite not being obligated to do so.

Jacqueline warmly recalls, “He left us his email address before he left Singapore and we were able to contact him whenever we could regarding questions on the module nearing the exams. I thought that was nice of him to stay with us as he could have better spent his time exploring the other parts of Singapore since it was his first visit here too.”

Yup, sounds like a real good lecturer to me!

Advice to would-be juniors

Jacqueline has this to say to would-be applicants to Environmental Science out there:

“The marine science industry is small in Singapore and may not be a known industry to most. Do not be disheartened to pursue this industry if it is really your interest. You can either choose to continue this interest as a post-grad in research/ academia or you could join the private industry as a consultant like I did. As the saying goes, you never have to work a day in your life if it is something that you are passionate about. And I have been enjoying my journey since I graduated from JCU and I even managed to complete my Master of Science!”

How inspirational! We sincerely hope that Jacqueline will continue to find her career fun and rewarding as she pursues her childhood passion!

About Environmental Science

Environmental Science is concerned with the dynamics between plants, animals, human beings and the world around us. Through field research out in nature, environmental scientists elucidate system processes, identify dangers in the environment and develop solutions to them. On top of monitoring conditions during fieldwork, they also spend time in the lab analysing data and consolidate written reports of their findings.

This article was written with the help of the Singapore campus of James Cook University.

Interested in checking out JCU’s Bachelor of Business and Environmental Science? You can find out more from their course preview here.



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