I wanted to put out a quick update on behalf of the Society for Marine Mammalogy Board regarding the petition related to unpaid internships and the subsequent discussion on MARMAM and beyond.
It is encouraging to see ongoing dialogue and the evolution of various positions as more voices and perspectives engage on the issue. At the core we all agree that our marine mammal community, and science in general, benefits from increased diversity. We all agree that barriers to diversity and inclusiveness, where they exist, should be dismantled. The challenge we face is finding agreement on what the ‘right’ course of action should be and which action should come first. The initial dialog on internships quickly moved to two perspectives: one being that unpaid internships were the barrier that needed addressing, and the other that a focus on underrepresented groups throughout the marine mammal science career pipeline was the necessary action. Thankfully, the discussion has continued to grow in nuance with greater acknowledgment that the pipeline is broken in many places and each spot needs focused attention. This is an issue of “and” not “or” – it is both unpaid internships AND lack of access in early education (and so much more) that contribute to the struggle to achieve greater diversity in our field.
The SMM has just received the petition, and it will feed into the Board’s ongoing deliberations on this important and multifarious issue. The Board is reviewing the online discussion and available literature, reaching out to a broader cohort of our community, and looking across other professional societies to see if and how they have addressed similar concerns. After this initial process we will work with our membership to find what action by the SMM is in our purview and could address this issue in a meaningful and responsible way.
One thing is certain though: one of the most positive actions we can take is to facilitate this dialog further and include our membership to the greatest extent possible. To that end, we will soon host an online forum with a variety of participants and perspectives on this issue. This will be a moderated online discussion that will be archived for future watching. Our intent is for this to happen in mid-August.
While across our community there may not be 100% agreement on the issues raised in the petition or some of the responses to it, I believe we should thank those who have started the discussion and those who have stepped up to respond. This is how our marine mammal society will grow and advance – by asking hard, and oftentimes uncomfortable questions and taking necessary steps to improve. We best serve our community and the animals we study by being open to these discussions, self reflective about our roles and perspectives, and willing to evolve when necessary.
More information, including ideas for specific actions, will be coming soon. If you have thoughts you would like to share directly with the Board please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact our Diversity and Inclusion Committee co-chairs at email@example.com.
Be safe and well.
We strongly encourage you all to share you perspective or personal experiences related to this issue. This will help everyone better understand the complexity of this issue as it spans our many cultures and individual circumstances around the world.
Please ensure that responses are courteous and professional. If we feel there are issues with tone or content we will reach back to all posters to discuss. Thank you for a constructive discussion.
I am posting this message on behalf of an ECR who wishes to remain anonymous.
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 barriers.
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 ecotourism.
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.
I am posting this message on behalf of an ECR who wishes to remain anonymous.
I just wanted to say, that as an immigrant-born, WOC who was previously an unpaid intern (THREE times), that these experiences have significantly affected my self-esteem as a scientist, and have skewed the value of my labor and intelligence. I remember working 90+ hour weeks during these internships to work unpaid as an intern, and work another unrelated job to help pay for my rent, bills, and food.
As an early career scientist I’m never sure of how much my work is worth, and I am quick to feel guilty for asking for compensation of any sort let alone compensation that is commensurate with my knowledge and experiences. I know that someone who is either, better represented in the field, or who did not partake in these experiences, probably is not working on overcoming similar issues, and may even have more access to gainful employment than I, even with similar academic and professional experiences. I’ve seen and experienced such disparities.
Ultimately, I feel that my unpaid internship experiences did not provide me with valuable work experience as much as they added to the difficulties of managing my mental health and the burden of overcoming imposter syndrome. If anything, I would strongly argue that these experiences have hindered my career because I cannot dedicate my full efforts to progressing in the field. I say this not to whine or complain – I’m so grateful and fortunate for all of my lived experiences – but I want to highlight the potentially life-lasting damage that these so called opportunities provide young scientists. I’ve always said this: If researchers can find money in grants for thousands of dollars worth of equipment, boat time, etc. they can find the finances to adequately pay someone for their work and intellect. Otherwise it’s tantamount to robbery and inflicts a lot of internal damage upon an individual.
I write this from my own personal viewpoint as an individual, and do not associate my personal viewpoint as the voice/viewpoint of any past employers.
Interns should be paid. If an organization cannot pay them, the positions need to be advertised as volunteer positions, not internships. I grew up in a very low-income household, I could not even bother applying for unpaid internships available when i was an UG. I feel for UG students and EC scientists trying to gain valuable experience, but being left out because they cannot afford to go 3-6+ months with no income. College credit for internships doesnt buy food, housing, or pay bills. We need to value our interns, and pay them a livable wage. I have found this issue to be especially rampant in the marine mammal world, even though so many large grants exist to fund MM research institutions. If we can afford thousands of dollars of robust equipment, we can afford to at least pay an intern minimum wage at the LEAST. We need to re-think how we value these workers. Because we all know they work HARD– expected to pull long, hot, tiring hours in the field and lab with no compensation. We need to re-think how unpaid internships limit who we employ. The only people who can accept these are those who are receiving outside help financially, those who come from wealthy backgrounds, or those willing to take out loans to cover expenses while employed (which should never need to happen and is an absurd expectation). Further, “i had to work unpaid internships when I was their age,” is NOT a valid argument to be made by employers. Should we not, as a field, be constantly working to make things easier for people to pursue scientific careers? I think in the current state of the world we see now more than ever, how important it is to have a diverse, loud, proud, supportive science community. These EC scientists and UG researchers are the future of this field. We should provide them with all the opportunities not afforded to us when we were in their positions. We should advocate for them. We should treat them fairly, and allow them to pursue science, and afford to put food on the table while doing it.
I am posting this message on behalf of an ECR who wishes to remain anonymous. I have redacted identifying information in order to protect their anonymity.
I am a Marine Mammal [graduate] student. It has always been my life dream to work with marine mammals and I’ve been doing small things that will get me there, eventually. However, one HUGE issue are unpaid positions. I haven’t been able to participate in any internships because most of them, if not all, are unpaid. Some of them ask you to pay for the experience and on top of that you have to pay for travel expenses, visas, health insurance for that place, housing, food, and have to have a car! I don’t come from a wealthy family and my savings are not enough to pay for all that, get to that place, and then work for free. Right now, I am trying to graduate from my masters and then, I will like to finally get some experience in the field. Hopefully, paid because now I have to pay a student loan as well.
I was accepted to intern for [a for-profit whale watching company] (and many others with the same problem) and I was taken aback when they told me I was to work sometimes for up to 12 hours, weekends included, I will have to make arrangements to be “on-call” and they will not be able to offer any compensation. I am not from [state], I can’t afford a car for just a small period of time and living walking distance from the [harbor] will be around $10K for 4 months without counting food and living expenses. I had to decline to this one and the others as well. Right now, doing my masters in the United States I have come to the realization that most people in the field are white and have family/connections they can rely on while getting experience. Others, like me, are not so lucky when you have to work other low-income jobs to save as much money as you can to pursue your dream step by step. This is if they don’t get discouraged along the way. Also, not being from the United States and English not being my first language making connections and meeting people that are willing to give you an opportunity within the field is difficult, because most of the time they look at you as being “less than” for not having the money to pay for all the expenses regarding that opportunity. Sometimes I get discouraged and with all that is happening right now, I’ve been wondering if I am making the right choice, if I should keep aiming for my absolute dream. This letter sent a powerful message, necessary changes are being made, and I know I am on the right path! I will keep doing my best to be part of the Marine Mammals world.
Posted on Behalf of the Authors
Dear SMM President,
We have been following closely the debate initiated by Jacobsen and colleagues and would like to share some opinions. The five of us have been invited to participate in the Plenary session entitled ‘Overcoming Marine Mammal Research Challenges’ at the World Marine Mammal Conference in Barcelona in December 2019. Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara has shared with us his opinion, which we understand he has described in a message to the SMM Board, and would like to express our strong support of his position.
We come from different countries and work in different continents, cultures and political situations. As with many other scientists, we each struggled in the early phases of our careers to reach the positions we are in today, and had very similar experiences as interns and junior scientists. We can assuredly state that none of us would likely be at the same level in our careers had we not participated in unpaid internships and volunteering positions at the early stages of our professional paths. None of us had a ‘free ride’ associated with privilege. In fact, even today, with some of us salaried and some of us otherwise, we are all thankful for our first opportunities to join research trips on the water and to work long hours learning the fundamental aspects of work in this field. Each of us have since had humbling and life changing experiences that have made us who we are, stories that we will be more than happy to share with the SMM should it help further this discussion.
We wish not to enter into a political debate here and we certainly do not want to underestimate the critical issues related to minorities in specific societies; we simply believe that this does not apply everywhere and our five different cases strongly argue in favour of situations where none of us felt mistreated, exploited, over-worked or offended. We empathise with those for whom monetary needs are critical. If funded internships had been available, we too would have taken them. However, to generalise a demand for salaries for learning experiences that are self-motivated is misguided and to insist from the outset that every step needs to be paid will greatly reduce the opportunities for exposure that many of us relied on early in our careers. We each strongly believe that we would follow exactly the same path if we had the opportunity of a second chance, without changing anything.
We are all now running private research institutes, working for NGOs, or are freelancing, and we regularly receive applications for unpaid positions and voluntary work, which we very much support and encourage and which have foundations in our own early experience. We empathise. In a shift away from our own early experiences, we take care of food, lodging, and local travel in a safe way of all our volunteers and interns. We work to develop relationships of trust and learning, and we are grateful for the time and passion they have for our projects. Working for and directing small projects (even those nested within larger NGOs) or small research institutes/organisations are often very difficult, challenging and frustrating. However, we feel that offering the possibility to interns/volunteers/students to participate and collaborate, even without salary, is a concrete part of our mandate and responsibility and should be encouraged, rather than discouraged.
We support Giuseppe’s final considerations and we would like the SMM to dedicate time and effort to make sure these points are addressed in the best possible way. The society should do its best to:
• refrain from putting a blanket, undiscerning ban on advertising unpaid positions;
• renaming the advertisement link for “internships (unpaid)” on the SMM website to “volunteering
opportunities” (this phrase is an arbitrary suggestion);
• develop a set of guidelines that define the terms “intern” and “volunteer” and put in place the eligible criteria for the types of “unpaid” opportunities that can be advertised on the SMM website, recognising that there cannot be a one-sit-fits-all approach to the matter at hand; and
• develop a set of guidelines for those offering internship and volunteering positions that govern supervisory responsibilities, behaviours and expectations, as well as ensuring that opportunities are available to all suitable applicants, irrespective of background or financial capability.
By doing so, the potential experiences and explorations for developing the careers of many potential marine mammal specialists, scientists and conservationists all around the world would not be precluded at its embryonal stages. At least this is how it did not happen to the five of us.
Simone Panigada, President, Tethys Research Institute, Italy
Tim Collins, Wildlife Conservation Society, Kenya
Louisa Ponnampalam, Executive Director, The MareCet Research Organization, Malaysia Dipani Sutaria, Freelance Ecologist, India
Fernando Trujillo, Scientific Director, Omacha Foundation, Colombia
Pulled from Post on MARMAM – July 21 2020
Dear fellow SMMers,
Watching this discussion unfold, I feel compelled to contribute. While I cannot help but support the open and honest exchange of ideas and philosophies, I find myself wholeheartedly agreeing with Phil Clapham. As someone who has both benefited tremendously from being unpaid labor, and also seen others benefit from it, I cannot in good conscience support an outright professional ban on such opportunities. I believe that would be a misguided broad brush stroke that takes away positive programs rather than creating more of them.
There is no question that the system as a whole needs to be re-examined carefully, but as I believe Phil alluded to, it is a structural change that is needed. Many (perhaps even most) organizations that are not part of a large university or government system simply do not have the resources to pay people to receive an education, which is what many internships provide. Internships in this business are frequently unlike veterinary or medical internships, in which a certain expertise and/or certification has already been acquired by the intern. Intern candidates often have little to no relevant experience and are not much different from a brand new volunteer. Some have considerable experience or education in other areas, but are trying new things. A one-size-fits-all strategy for addressing the baked-in inequities seems restrictive at best, as the inequities are not all one size or one shape.
Many organizations do everything they can to facilitate people’s education. It is done as unpaid community outreach, unfunded participation in graduate student committees, unsupported participation in student conferences, and providing volunteerism and internships. Those internship opportunities are not charged for in the way an academic institution would charge for an education, despite having many similarities. Those same organizations often have staff that are not paid what they deserve based on their work ethic, their competencies, their qualifications, or their dedication. Their operations are often chronically underfunded on federal, municipal and institutional levels. All these things take a toll on staff retention, conservation effectiveness, etc. Perhaps because this is personal, it seems reciprocally unfair to categorize all organizations with blanket statements of unfairness, when many are already stretched thinly, with funds diluted beyond belief, trying their best to make a small bit of difference.
Having such organizations stop offering unpaid internships without already having a viable alternative to this process will likely have other unintended consequences, such as reduced capacity for research or conservation work. This will not only affect those interns who have and continue to benefit from robust internship programs, but will likely also impact the very animals we are all so passionate about helping. I would urge this passionate and vocal community to come together to build more opportunities, rather than suggest removal of pre-existing ones which have given many people the chance to course correct or enrich their lives. To that end, I offer up a few modest suggestions that might conceivably help jump start such an effort, if embraced.
1) Create consortium of organizations that offer internships. Each organization contributes seed money to an endowment or some other means of growing a fund to support financial need-based internships within the consortium. Those organizations can use their political and economic clout and their media presence to promote additional outside support. Such a consortium may also help with promoting successful interns toward employment opportunities within the consortium.
2) SMM members join to form virtual classes or thematic video shorts that can help address the very insightful point Phil made about reaching young people and infecting them with our excitement and passion, on topics so few of them are ever exposed to until it’s too late. Many of us have been to SMM video night and seen the exciting whale tagging videos, gross necropsy videos, heartbreaking bycatch videos, etc. Those same visuals that move us, could move current students, form future researchers, and reach broader audiences.
3) Unified messaging (and lobbying) to government and funding agencies for need-based federal/national support of career training programs related to marine mammal science. Perhaps this could have some sort of accreditation process to weed out those organizations with questionable intern practices and questionable intern education.
4) Grant funded academic research programs that depend on free labor to run large programs should indeed re-examine if/how intern funding is written into grant proposals. It is common practice for grant budgets to have graduate student funds built into them, so if those projects will require intern labor, perhaps that should be a consideration. There has to be recognition however that such practices could impact competitiveness of many grant applications by inflating the budgets in a funding environment that is already anemic. Perhaps it can be built into the institutional overhead costs?
My kindest regards to every single one of you across the world, and my best wishes that we all overcome whatever challenges we currently face. Stay safe.
Alexander M. Costidis, Ph.D.
Stranding Response & Biomedical Research
This message was sent to MARMAM and SMM Leadership. MARMAM is asking that all future correspondence be posted here or sent to SMM President and/or D&I Committee. Posting this on behalf of the author.
To the marine mammal science community,
A recent submission regarding the systemic injustices surrounding unpaid labor in marine mammal science piqued my interest. This is a conversation I’ve been waiting to have for quite some time. Before I get into the nuts and bolts, I want to lay out my positionality in this discussion so everybody can understand where I’m coming from.
My name is Giovanni Galarza. I’m a 2019 graduate of the Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA. I possess a BAS in marine science, with emphasis in marine mammal ecology and intersectional studies. I am a queer individual with mixed ancestry (predominantly Latinx/Spanish) who grew up in a heavily westernized family in the middle-upper class wealth bracket. I was raised in the Pacific Northwest in British Columbia and later western Washington, and it is here where my passions for marine science bloomed. As the child of a family who worked for Customs and Border Protection, I’ve grown up to learn that I reside on the intersections of many different convoluted topics, some of which conflict with themselves (for example, being a radicalized individual of Latinx descent with Latinx parents working for DHS/CBP, federal organizations which are laden with heavily racist origins and uphold discriminatory and violent practices that persist well into present day). I have learned that my experiences and the experiences of my family have shaped my perspective, and in combination with an intersectional approach to my academic experience provided by Evergreen State College, I have undergone multiple transformations to my perspective with regards to my role and mission as a marine scientist and environmentalist. Additionally, as an individual with blurry indigenous background largely lost through colonization of what is now called Mexico, I recognize that many intertwining fields such as economics, ecology, conservation, etc., have historically been dominated by men of European descent through the mechanisms of white supremacy.
I want to thank everybody who has replied to this letter for their time and effort, and the offering of personal experiences. It is many of the biologists leading the field who have inspired me to pursue a career in marine mammal science, and I can only thank them for spearheading my journey. However, I must admit disappointment as I read a plethora of responses involving predominantly white men who are suggesting that because decades ago it was once possible for them to push through impoverished times and endure the burdens of unpaid internships in the midst of financial crisis (here, consider student loan debt, rent/mortgages, utility bills, insurance bills, etc.) while benefiting from a system designed to serve this demographic in particular, that it is still possible to do so today. This is very much not the case.
The term “generational wealth” resounds with me here, that is wealth in the form of monetary wealth and property/assets that can be passed down generationally. For many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) individuals, generational wealth has historically been made difficult or impossible to obtain given the racist history in the United States specifically (I speak here as a current American citizen, therefore my perspective is slanted as such). Genocide, slavery, displacement through gentrification and American land theft, along with the corruption associated with corporate and political interests which reinforce discriminatory laws are all persistent contributors to marginalized groups having less access to resources, and they still exist today as a lingering result of this nation’s history and a lack of reparations made to those who were afflicted.
These barriers that many scientists have described (i.e. scarce and often low paying/unpaid internships and work opportunities) are considered as standard in the field, myself included. But why are they there in the first place? Community outreach aside (which is possible to achieve without the use of unpaid citizen labor), we consider these internships as an opportunity for developing scientists to gain experience to bulk up their employability through practical field experience. I’ve been fortunate enough to have familial support to finance my marine science career, but the intersection here is that historically, our family assimilated into white America by, over generations, denouncing many elements of our Indigenous and so-called “Latin” heritage to appear palatable to US learning institutions, and later the federal government for employment. It is then with this affiliation and the financial benefits that it was possible for my Canadian birth, and later, the actualized potential for me to pursue higher education at all.
Over time, with the direct privilege of financial assistance of my parents, and potentially with my light skin and cisgender-heterosexual passing mannerisms, I have been able to complete my 4-year degree to achieve my goal of becoming a marine scientist in marine mammal studies, I have been able to intern with Cascadia Research Collective, and all without worrying about blatant discrimination, imminent homelessness, or financial depletion while developing my professional skills as a biologist in the field alongside respected biologists. I have been able to actualize my childhood dreams in a very surreal and satisfying way. These are not experiences that everybody can afford to have, and I recognize this as I continue to navigate the intersections of economic, social, and environmental justice.
With the completion of my bachelors degree under my belt, I intended to take a gap year in the food service industry where income is more stable and reliable. But with the reality of the economic crash affecting many people across the country and around the world, me and my family included, all exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic, my formal marine science career has now come to a very abrupt standstill. There are new barriers to hurdle, some of which may not resonate with folks who have secured their position comfortably in the field, and these include criminally increasing rent rates and diminishing opportunities for affordable housing, economic inflation in spite of the increase of minimum wage in Washington state where I currently reside, outrageous entry level job requirements demanding much higher education levels than I can reasonably afford to take on at this time (as well as experience hours that I can only rack up by taking on unpaid internships), and the ability to juggle a 40+ hour work week to make ends meet and simply maintain my own existence in the midst of a collapsing society and global environmental crisis. Unpaid internships as a primary tool for professional development make furthering one’s self in this field almost impossible for many. But this merely scratches the surface of the issues at hand.
It’s important to recognize the relationship of unpaid labor to STEM given the current state of the globalized capitalist economic system, especially when we consider how much money is funneled into, for example, the US military and police forces compared to environmental conservation, social services, and education combined. It’s important to recognize that these impoverished conditions under which many research organizations perform under are a direct product of top-down forces exerted by federal agencies and the dynamics of capitalism itself. And while race and economic class bracket are very closely correlated, economic standing is going to ultimately determine who can and cannot carry out unpaid labor, and this is especially critical to consider for those of us who are desperately attempting to develop our professional careers. In order to understand class barriers, we inherently have to learn to grapple with and topple the conditions that systemic racism thrusts upon us, which is what allowed this nation and many of the global empires around the world to develop as we know them to exist today, and what require research institutions to perform on extremely tight budgets in the first place.
To everybody joining in this conversation about unpaid labor, and whether or not to allow these positions to continue, also take it upon yourselves to continue to learn about the inherent links between capitalism and racism, and how the upper class (composed of predominantly [NOT EXCLUSIVELY] “white” folks) benefits from economic flexibility and the ripple effects of generational wealth, as well as taking into consideration how the world has significantly changed over the past few decades. Continue to examine how economic freedom affects our priorities: our ability to view conservation and environmental justice over day-to-day survival, and additionally how these paradigms are connected. Justice from the bottom, up, will only benefit everybody in the long run.
This conversation also needs to include the voices and experiences of BIPOC folks to be validated in any way. If it remains to be an echo chamber of white, or otherwise upper class BIPOC folks, then this is fundamentally a waste of everybody’s time and energy. This is a wonderful catalyst to a much larger conversation that we need to have as we ring in the next generation of scientists amidst the rise of American fascism, the persistence of racial and class discrimination, and the ultimate death of the planet.
Thank you for your time,
This message was sent to MARMAM and SMM Leadership. MARMAM is asking that all future correspondence be posted here or sent to SMM President and/or D&I Committee. Posting this on behalf of the author.
To Whom It May Concern,
I’d like to submit the following text as a reply to the ongoing unpaid internship discussion that’s been happening in the MARMAM list the past few weeks. Please let me know if you require anything further from me to facilitate this process.
I’d first like to acknowledge how appreciative I am that this conversation is happening within our field. As someone who has relied upon many unpaid volunteers to assist me throughout my PhD candidature, I’ve thought often about this problem and felt significant guilt about wanting to pay our volunteers but simply not having the means to do so.
I feel that the Jacobsen et al. letter represents the first step on the journey to creating a real solution. On its own, disallowing advertisements for unpaid internships will not solve the problem – this action does not create the necessary funding to introduce paid internship opportunities. I would like to suggest that the next step in this process be to write an open letter to funding bodies which do not allow their funding to be used for personnel costs, asking them to reconsider this restriction. From my experience, this restriction is common practice within granting schemes. We may even consider asking for further commitment to removing this barrier by suggesting that a paid volunteership/internship allocation be required within each grant.
I myself am extremely time-poor at the moment (late-stage PhD candidature) and thus don’t feel I can take on the responsibility of coordinating such a task at this time. However, it is something I feel would be very rewarding to be involved in if someone else was able to take the lead. I hope this conversation continues to move forward.
Suzanne K Hillcoat
PhD Candidate | Minke Whale Project
Posted on behalf of author.
Dear SMM President,
My old-time colleague Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara has shared with me his opinion concerning the Jacobsen et al. petition, which he said he has also communicated in a
message to the Board, and I wish to express my strong support to his position.
Like many others, I am grateful to the Tethys Research Institute, Milan, Italy, for allowing me to participate a long time ago, as a student intern, to the first steps the Institute was moving in the Mediterranean scientific environment. Being quite pioneers in our country, and in the
Mediterranean research on cetaceans, it has been an enthusiastic, demanding, full energy experience, and no doubts that the salary was at the bottom of the list of problems we facedfor many years. Time has passed, Tethys has celebrated 34 years, a few of which under my
presidency, and we are still here, acting for the conservation of cetaceans, still with the help of some volunteers who will have the opportunity to grow personally and maybe pursue a
career in this field, as it has happened to me.
What is not ethical, is to exploit people’s work if you have the possibility to pay them a salary, even a small one, but in case this is not possible, the value of learning and meeting people in
your field of interest is in any case very valuable and should not be blamed nor discouraged.
Thank you and best regards
Honorary President, Tethys Research Institute
IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force
This is a link provided by Simon Elwen for a piece he wrote on voluntourism for the Daily Maverick, a South African daily online newspaper.
Posted on behalf of the author:
Dear President and Diversity and Inclusion Committee of the Society for
I appreciate the seriousness with which the Society for Marine Mammalogy
is taking on the issue of unpaid work in this field, and the time of
those who have contributed their perspectives and experiences to date. I
particularly appreciate the courage of young scientists who have stepped
up to initiate this discussion and to contribute to it, and the
generosity of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color who have shared
their concerns and experiences.
I agree with several discussants that it is important to be clear about
where we are coming from when we share our perspectives. I am U.S.-born
and -residing, White, and from a middle-class background. My father was
a government scientist, and now I am too (but of course the views shared
here are personal and do not represent those of my employer). I never
had an unpaid internship – even coming from my relatively privileged
background, I never felt I could afford to. Given current expectations
of unpaid labor, obscene levels of student debt, stagnant minimum wages,
and skyrocketing housing costs, I doubt I would make it to this point
again. It is easy to understand that these barriers are exponentially
magnified for students and early-career scientists from low-income
backgrounds, even more so for young scientists who additionally face
racial discrimination both professionally and in their daily lives, with
oft-accompanying senses of isolation and self-doubt in an overwhelmingly
To get to the point of why I feel compelled to contribute to this
discussion, I see a false dichotomy being presented by some
establishment scientists between the critical work of conservation
science and the fair and just compensation of individuals who are
getting started in the field. By setting up barriers and perpetuating
privilege in this field, we also perpetuate dangerous stereotypes that
caring about the environment is primarily a concern for people who are
privileged and, in a field where many leading nations are Western or
Westernized, White. We imperil our very mission by failing to actively
include and elevate underrepresented voices, voices who often know more
viscerally than people with more privileged backgrounds the importance
of ecosystem health to human well-being, voices that reach demographics
whose support and energy is essential to making progress towards our
conservation goals. Not only do we have a social justice imperative to
remove barriers and actively enhance participation in marine mammal
science by people with underrepresented backgrounds and identities, we
cannot afford not to.
Even where this perceived dichotomy may be more real in an immediate
sense, because local support for conservation science is limited by
competing urgent priorities to support human lives, we need to step back
and consider the larger picture of the culpability of Western nations in
creating a system of tiered economies, and the responsibility of those
nations and their scientists, in addressing systemic injustices, to also
address this larger damage and share the wealth to support vigorous
conservation science everywhere. I recall Asha de Vos’ incisive point in
her 2017 WMMC plenary that without on-the-ground, sustainable science
programs and the local interest and support they generate, the species
we purport to care about have no chance.
The expectation of unpaid labor to gain access is a rampant problem in
all professions, at least in the U.S., but it stands out as both
unusually common and particularly egregious in environmental and
organismal biology. The lure of a field that people are passionate
about, even more so for marine science, makes it all too easy to find
willing unpaid labor. At the same time, environmental scientists as a
group tend to view ourselves as concerned about the well-being not just
of other species, but other human beings, and as system-level thinkers.
This makes the continued propping up of unjust and short-sighted
practices especially flagrant. In exploring and considering potential
steps that SMM can take, I ask you to explicitly frame the issues of
conservation and social justice not as competing values, but as mutually
K. Alexandra Curtis
San Diego, California
Please follow this link to a blog post written by one of our members. This was originally attached as a comment on our SMM guidelines for professional conduct but seems more appropriate in this thread.