Careers in Science
How did you choose your present profession? What were your biggest motivators? Who are your greatest mentors or heroes?
Loving to sail, I wanted a profession close to the sea. So, why not being a marine biologist? But what type of marine biology? I was interested in genetics but that field was really just expanding into marine biology and it was difficult to find a supervisor. One year, I took a phycology course (phycology is the study of algae), and the instructor was interesting, passionate, captivating and enjoyable, and that’s how it started! That was when I was a student in Brittany, in France, and this mentor was Jean-Yves Floc’h from the University of Western Brittany.
When I moved to North America, I completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, in Vero Beach, Florida. My supervisor there was Dennis Hanisak, who became my second mentor, involving me in the Phycological Society of America, the International Phycological Society and the International Seaweed Association—which has been a wonderful journey of work, responsibilities and fun!
My father was also a great source of inspiration. A dedicated pediatrician with a great humanist approach to education and life, a type of individual who will, unfortunately, soon be on the endangered species list!
Was there a pivotal event in your life that helped you decide on your career path?
During my family’s summer vacations in Brittany, France, I developed a love for the sea, and I had to live close to it!
What has been the biggest surprise in your life as a scientist?
Common sense is the hardest thing to sell, be it to academics, industry, regulators, environmental non-governmental organizations and the public in general! Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) is an aquaculture practice rooted in the age-old, common-sense concepts of recycling and diversifying, but it is taking a long time to be adopted, particularly in the Western World.
What would you recommend for students wanting to pursue a similar career?
Get out there, attend conferences and be open to what is happening around you. You never know when you will be at the right place at the right time, and something will happen that will decide your career path when you are not necessarily expecting it. Choose a career in a field you like, because it is not always rosy, but, if you have the passion, you will get through the bad days and only remember the good ones!
What do you like best about your profession?
It is always varied, no dull moments! I am close to the sea, I travel to interesting places and I meet some very interesting people, all of which gives me a better understanding of this world.
What would you say has been your greatest achievement?
Starting to influence the aquaculture sector on changing aquaculture practices and changing society’s opinions.
Are you optimistic for the future of the planet and if so why?
Yes, as Jules Verne wrote, “Tout ce qui est impossible reste à accomplir” (“All that is impossible remains to be accomplished”).
What are your greatest fears for the future of the planet?
People refusing common-sense solutions and being seduced by the latest well-spun fad.
What’s the one message you would like the next generation of scientists to hear?
Get out of the ivory tower! Combine academic and applied research. Be inter-disciplinary in your approach—that’s where the solutions are.
What Web sites, books, articles and other layperson references would you recommend for viewers interested in your work featured in Strange Days on Planet Earth?
Thierry B.R. Chopin's Lab: www.unbsj.ca/sase/biology/chopinlab/
Visit Chopin's bio page »