Encouraging curious, talented young minds into aquaculture is key to the sustainable growth of the sector.

That’s why we host a number of paid internships every year, in partnership with Skills Development Scotland’s successful Scottish Life Sciences Internship Programme, giving talented life sciences students the opportunity to learn about aquaculture from a variety of perspectives. You can read some of those students’ experience below.

New to 2017
New to 2017, the SAIC Summer Interns Programme will also help match life sciences students with Scottish aquaculture businesses to work on a range of projects and activities: technical or commercial, desk-based or field-based – whatever would be of most benefit to the business. To find out more, download the Information Sheet below.

Summer 2016: Dan Mulqueen, industry placement

Summer 2016: Dan Mulqueen, industry placement

Summer 2016 saw me undertake my second internship with the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), having completed a ScotGrad Life Sciences internship with SAIC the year before.

That first internship in 2015 was a real turning point for me, helping me realise that I would be better suited to a career within industry as opposed to academia. I embarked on my fourth and final year of a BSc Hons in Marine Science at the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS) feeling focused and highly motivated.

I had learnt an incredible amount about the Scottish aquaculture industry during my first internship and was involved in a variety of tasks and activities, ranging from in-house literature reviews to getting out and about to visit industry and academia. As networking goes, it was invaluable – and has already proved beneficial to me in my, albeit short, career within the aquaculture industry.

This summer, I had a completely different yet equally insightful experience. Having expressed an interest to be more involved in the industry side of aquaculture, I was offered the chance to be based at the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group (SSMG). There, I worked on an industry-led project, originally developed for the Sustainable Aquaculture MSc programme at the University of Stirling, to help encourage the application of problem-solving science to industry issues.

The aim of my project was to investigate new ways of preparing and packaging live mussels for transportation to customers – amongst them, many of the UK’s major supermarket chains.

Month one
Much of my first month was spent familiarising myself with the business and how it worked: from learning about the subtle variations between mussels sourced from different locations, through to the distribution network used.

I also made a site visit to a mussel farm on Scotland’s west coast and, once back at SSMG, learned how to complete intake assessments. This is something that has to be done for each and every delivery of mussels in order to establish key information about the batch: for example, the number of broken shells, the amount of extraneous matter and the quantity with barnacles and tubeworms on the outside of the mussel shells.

Month two
Once familiar with the processing of live mussels, I began comparing packaging styles and their impact on the shelf life of mussels. Here, the close supervision of Dr Stefano Carboni from the University of Stirling proved invaluable. Through his expertise and the facilities available to him at the Institute of Aquaculture, I was able to delve further into my research and achieve more rigorously-tested results.

Month three
Through my research I found that a small change to the preferred method of packaging would significantly improve the shelf life of mussels – a key finding that led to further trials into the benefits of such a change for customers.

Related to this, I was also involved in making assessments on the shelf life for retained samples of live mussels sent out to customers: collecting data, recognising trends in mussel quality and identifying potential reasons for these.

The combined result of this work was a marked improvement in the quality of the mussels at the end of their shelf life and a noticeable drop in the number of complaints about the products; something that can only strengthen customers’ already positive perceptions of Scottish mussels and SSMG.

Looking back
Looking back, my second summer internship with SAIC has given me a great insight into the commercial side of the Scottish aquaculture industry. I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute, particularly the hands-on aspect and the fact that no two weeks are the same. The daily taste panel isn’t too bad either!

Summer 2016: Jess Taylor, month three

Summer 2016: Jess Taylor, month three

My final month started with lots of social media. With SAIC on so many platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram), making sure they’re all kept up-to-date and also cross-promote the other platforms is a constant duty. It helps when we have pictures or videos from events, as they’re great to share on different platforms.

Looking forward for SAIC, I started to plan out a social media plan for the SAIC Scholars initiative 2017/18 (there’s no such thing as being too prepared). As someone looking to apply for a Masters myself, it was useful to be able to start planning the strategy out and put down when the major milestones for the application year occur. With four universities and seven different MSc programmes to keep in order, having a definitive plan before the crunch time comes will be key, and hopefully it will pay off and get even more students looking to apply for aquaculture Masters involved and engaged with the industry.

Keeping up-to-date with the consortium event planning was king while I manned the desk during various holidays. Invitees kept ticking through, so ensuring everyone had name labels and was accounted for was needed. Having the consortium event at the end of the month (and my internship with SAIC) helped to peg the month and provide an obvious goal to work towards, which really helped to focus my efforts. In the run up to the actual event, it was busy. Arriving the night before to set up and make sure we had everything organised was actually extremely helpful. On the day of the consortium event it was all go, and flew by. It was interesting listening to the Q&A panels of project partners then Board members, and also the speech by Fergus Ewing MSP about the aquaculture industry. What struck me throughout the event was how large but close the industry is; many people knew each other in the room, yet there was always at least one new person for them to meet. That’s also very in keeping with what SAIC tries to do, to make partnerships with different people to further industry research. The final week of my internship was the favourite part of my month; seeing the final products of a huge amount of work. Both the consortium event on its own and the annual review produced for it were amazing, and I’m pleased I managed to have a role in both of them.

Helping make sure my last week was kept busy, there was a Board meeting the morning after the consortium event. Having never sat in on one before I found it interesting to listen to the various topics on the agenda, and could see how having a wide range of industry experience on the Board is invaluable.

My 13 weeks with SAIC have been a fantastic learning experience. From having an extremely limited knowledge of the aquaculture industry (which I think could be summed up in ‘you need to eat fish’) I have learnt far more than I thought I would. The aquaculture industry is now a direction that is open to me, and I can see how it would be relevant to me when I start to think about going into the job market. The entire internship has definitely helped me decide that science communication is an avenue I would like to go down, so thank you everyone at Team SAIC!

Summer 2016: Mena Kirmani, month three

Summer 2016: Mena Kirmani, month three

As my time here at SAIC comes to a close, I have continued to get involved in great experiences right up to my last few days. Meeting with representatives from Tesco and the Sustainable Aquaculture Research Group at the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture (IoA) being just one of things I’ve been doing. Looking back, my internship has gone far too fast for comfort.

Leading retailers can be actively involved in aquaculture research and development, as I had learned from a SAIC meeting with the Tesco Sustainable Fish Farming Group. Collaborations such as these can contribute to a more efficient industry that involves all those who are willing to contribute: from SMEs, regulators and retailers, to multi-national companies and the government.

Dr Trevor Telfer from the IoA was able to show me the range of work that the Sustainable Aquaculture Research Group do both here in Scotland and internationally. I was fascinated by the way they use modelling and spatial data to investigate the potential impacts of aquaculture production and development on the environment, and how their work is used to inform important decisions around the world.

Before embarking on my internship I hoped to get some worthwhile experience in a new industry to help me explore the opportunities are available in the marine world – and I wasn’t disappointed. I was able to explore the aquaculture industry landscape in Scotland and beyond, meet different kinds of experts and professionals who work in the industry, and become a valued member of a team. Team SAIC are very well connected, which has allowed me to make contacts who could be important for me in the years to come.

The opportunities that this internship has given me have pleasantly surprised me as a previously non aquaculture-savvy person, and I would encourage anyone who is even the slightest bit curious about aquaculture to apply. I was very well supported and can assure you that anyone else would be too.

A huge thank you to SAIC and their many contacts within and outwith the industry for their friendliness, time and support. It has been an absolute pleasure.

Summer 2016: Mena Kirmani, month two

Summer 2016: Mena Kirmani, month two

After fully settling in to the SAIC dynamic, it was all systems go in the next phase of my internship. I was able to gain a greater understanding of both the commercial and research elements of aquaculture by visiting the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group (SSMG) factory and the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture (IoA); develop further my knowledge of Scotland’s Innovation Centres (ICs); and explore Scotland’s vision for sustainable aquaculture at a meeting with SEPA.

Being aware of the stages, processes and impacts from cradle to grave (or in the case of aquaculture, rope to plate) is vital in any industry. Visiting SSMG, who supply retailers all across the UK, was incredibly insightful. I saw how fresh MSC-certified produce comes in from all over Scotland, and is processed and prepared for shipping. All parts of the Scottish supply chain are important but processing was particularly interesting – and noisy. I was also quite surprised at how many people this stage depends on and employs.

Sam Houston, 2nd year PhD student at the IoA, kindly showed us around the cutting-edge facilities at the Institute and told us all about the research they currently do. It was clear that people with expertise in veterinary science, nutrition, genetics, animal health and welfare, immunology and environmental sustainability could all pursue a career in the aquaculture industry.

Through an all-IC task I was assigned, I have also been learning about the ways in which the ICs assemble innovative project ideas and partnerships ready for delivery. This task required analysing and processing data into a suitable format, as well as liaising with IC Chief Executives and their teams over the course of the month. Hopefully my work will be able to help project processes develop across all ICs going forward.

However, my highlight by far of month two was attending a SEPA meeting at Strathallan House. Representatives from SEPA, Marine Scotland, SAMS and the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) came together to discuss Scotland’s environmental priorities for aquaculture in the future. This was another great example of how to truly work together towards a common vision. Since the environmental aspects are what interest me the most about the industry, this was an ideal experience.

As my time here at SAIC will be coming to an end in a month, I will continue to develop my skills and immerse myself in the various pieces of work I have lined up. Considering the amount of paper on my desk right now, I will definitely be kept busy!

Summer 2016: Jess Taylor, month two

Summer 2016: Jess Taylor, month two

It was a busy start to the month with an all-Innovation Centres Marketing & Communications meeting in Glasgow, a trip to Inverness in advance of our consortium event at the end of August and a fantastic trip to the SSMG factory in Bellshill – and that was just in the first two weeks.

The all-IC meeting was a great opportunity to meet the other Marketing & Communication Managers from the other Innovation Centres. Given how near in age all the Innovation Centres are, I found it interesting how different our approaches to things could be, but then how well the Centres could work together (shown by the fantastic all-IC website and video that was produced).

Visiting SSMG was a highlight for me. I’ve never seen a processing factory like that before, and it was interesting to see the entire process from intake to export through the factory. Big thanks to Dan for showing us round, giving us great explanations of each of the machines in the factory and what they did, and walking us through the process. I think the one part that stuck out the most was just the noise on the factory floor – processing all those mussels (cleaning, sorting, then packaging them) was loud work and I could definitely understand by the end of the tour why everyone had earplugs in.

We were also taken on a tour of the Institute of Aquaculture here at Stirling. Huge thanks to Sam for taking us round and showing us all the machines. I was amazed at how large and busy the Institute was, so carefully tucked away on the Stirling campus! I also had my blood tested to see how high my Omega 3 levels were while there – more fish needed was the consensus!

The visit to Inverness showed me just how much was needed when visiting a venue for an event. Everything from where signage will go to what drinks were to be served during breaks was thought of. Organisation for the event and the annual review is well underway and I’m now excited to see the final product.

My big win for the month was organising the press clippings album. Our coverage from inception up until now is all collated into one area as well as printed off and labelled in our new press clippings album. It feels like a big achievement, and it’s also great to look back through and see where and what stories get the best coverage.

I think my goal from last month – to get stuck in to as much as I can while I’m here – is definitely on course, and it shouldn’t be too hard to continue with next month’s consortium event!

Summer 2016: Holly Macintosh, work experience

Summer 2016: Holly Macintosh, work experience

As someone who has been set on going into engineering for the past three years, I have always been aware of a range of its applications from building bridges to designing robots. However it was only when I had the opportunity of work experience with the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre that I understood just how wide a variety of paths it offers.

For example, during my time at SAIC I visited the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group to see the work they do there. I saw how mussels and oysters are cleaned and prepared to be sent out to major supermarkets across the country. I was particularly impressed by the mechanisation of the process, which opened my eyes to a whole new side of engineering that I had not thought about before.

From the machines that cleaned the barnacles from the shells of the mussels, to the systems for packaging, it was clear how large a role engineering plays in getting the mussels from the sea to the plate.

In salmon farming too, I heard about some of the solutions to problems that engineering offers – from controlling sea-lice using ultrasound, to how to design a salmon farm able to withstand whatever the weather throws at it.

The other thing I found impressive over my days at SAIC was the huge amount of research that goes into every aspect of farming fish.

At the Institute of Aquaculture, Sam Houston, a 2nd year PhD student at the University of Stirling, showed us around and told us about his research work on feed ingredients for bass and bream.

My previous work experience had been at two major engineering companies, both of which had thousands of people working at the site where I was based. I am sure that in each of these companies people work together in a similar way, however at SAIC I was able to get a close up view of both this and how every piece of work fed into another. It was very interesting to see how people from across a huge range of disciplines were working together on products and solutions.

All in all, my time at SAIC has really opened my eyes to the wide variety of engineering applications throughout many industries, including, of course, aquaculture. After my work experience I am hugely excited to study at university and then go into a career, whether it be a ‘traditional’ engineering role or in an industry I never expected to work in.

Summer 2016: Mena Kirmani, month one

Summer 2016: Mena Kirmani, month one

My first few weeks as a full-time SAIC intern has been filled with a range of experiences. In the beginning, adapting to a new office environment took me a little getting used to. I hadn’t been in a similar post before but was keen to get stuck in to make the most of this experience.

Before I knew it, my drive was accommodated for by the team and I had a range of tasks lined up to develop different kinds of skills: from targeted networking opportunities, and developing and assisting new projects from the beginning, to desk-based research and team building.

For me, this experience is mirroring how the graduate experience could be, helping me identify what is important for me and my future. I now realise that I need to hurry up and pass my driving test if I want to be independently doing site visits!

As a BSc Environmental Science and Geography student, I have explored integrated coastal management, marine spatial planning and oceanography but not necessarily anything aquaculture-related. So my first month at SAIC has been a constant learning process and a very interesting one at that. Globally, aquaculture presents an opportunity to provide efficient, sustainable and nutritious food for the growing global population. Within this context, it is easy to see why this is an industry worth investing in. A thriving aquaculture sector in Scotland will drive employment, particularly in rural areas, and can support the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Learning about Scotland’s eight Innovation Centres has also been fascinating. At SAIC’s engineering workshop I saw how industry experts and leading academics can be brought together to tackle issues collectively for the wider benefit to the Scottish aquaculture sector. To me, this is what collaboration is really about – utilising each other’s strengths and expertise to contribute to a bigger picture.

I look forward to the next two months here at SAIC, as I am sure they will be busy ones.

Summer 2016: Jess Taylor, month one

Summer 2016: Jess Taylor, month one

The internship at SAIC, through the ScotGrad Life Sciences scheme, ticked the boxes for what I was looking for out of a summer placement.

I wanted to get experience in a smaller company in some area of the scientific community, but I was completely against working in a lab – a hard thing to balance! Past that, I wanted to work in a company where both they and I would get something out of it (which in hindsight isn’t the most tangible way of thinking about what to get out of an internship).

Working with SAIC definitely ticks the boxes of being at a smaller company in the science industry and there being mutual benefits. I’d never really thought of aquaculture as a big industry, however one month in I now know far more than I ever thought I would about the sector. It’s been a window into the industry which has been great, while the Innovation Centres were also something that I wasn’t aware of, and they’re a fantastic initiative. Bringing industry and academia together can seem alien, but SAIC have shown that it is possible and both sides will engage to their benefit.

From the marketing and communications side, it was interesting to see how that translates into the general aquaculture sector. It was really beneficial to see how workshops for the industry were organised and how I could then support the team to run a successful event. Through our engineering workshop I had the opportunity to visit FloWave, a circular ocean simulator that allows scale models to be tested before technologies or full scale devices are then put out to sea. I loved seeing the ‘tricks’ that they can do (even if they only have them for show and not during normal operations) while also learning about the design of the facility and how it manages to replicate the conditions in open water.

One thing I wasn’t expecting to see so early on was a Board meeting – it was definitely a hectic couple of days in the office getting ready for it, but I am glad it did happen so early. Now, when the next one happens later in the summer it won’t quite seem as huge. My goal for the next month (and beyond) is to get stuck in to as much as I can while I’m here, which shouldn’t be too hard with at least three visits planned to various places.

Spring 2016: Joanna Gosling, month three

Spring 2016: Joanna Gosling, month three

My third and final month at SAIC has been the busiest yet and was kick-started by the University of Stirling’s student-run aquaculture careers day. Thank you to all those who were involved as I came out of it with a real idea of what to expect from a career in aquaculture, where the skills gaps are and how I could progress if I prove myself to be keen and able.

Representatives from SSPO, EWOS (Cargill), Tesco, Pharmaq, Fishguard, AKVA, Alltech and Marine Scotland (to name a few) all gave inspiring talks about their career paths. If you are interested in a career in aquaculture I suggest you get to the next aquaculture careers day at the University.

The weeks that followed were spent travelling to Glasgow and London for various meetings. The Aquaculture Common Issues Group meeting gave me a fantastic insight into the key factors limiting the sustainable growth of aquaculture on a global scale; Grant Stentiford from CEFAS gave a particularly informative talk on this topic.

Then it was back up to Glasgow for a BBSRC/NERC workshop which aimed to bring together consortium ideas for a UK Aquaculture network (or networks). I have been involved in co-ordinating the University of Stirling’s bid to host a network and I was pleased to see that the consortium members from industry and academia were both animated and engaged in the discussion.

A high point of this month was meeting the aquaculture managers from major retailers in the UK, which I wouldn’t have had the chance to do had it not been for the SAIC internship. I gained a whole new perspective on the aquaculture supply chain and what life is like as a retail aquaculture manager.

Thank you SAIC for investing so much time, effort and resources into my professional development. In the short-term, I have gained some valuable perspectives about where my PhD fits into the big picture; in the long-term, I have gained important skills and knowledge that I will use throughout my career in aquaculture. Hopefully it won’t be long before we cross paths again!

Spring 2016: Joanna Gosling, month two

Spring 2016: Joanna Gosling, month two

I’m nearly at the end of my second month being a SAIC intern and it feels like it’s flown by! Interestingly, it’s also a month that’s seen the shortage of women in science make the headlines on more than one occasion.

First, there was the United Nations International Women’s Day promoting ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030’, then the Welsh government report on the critical shortage of women in science, and tonight the L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science Programme Awards. Each has led people to ask: how can we encourage more girls and women into science?

For me, science is the antidote to my inquisitive brain and aquaculture brings together my love of the sea and farming background. I think my choices were ultimately due to my fantastic school science teachers. The learning culture at the Colchester County High School for Girls never made me question what I could achieve based on gender and for that I am eternally grateful. I have seen first-hand the damaging effects of gender stereotyping on young girls (and boys) during my time as a trainee science teacher with Teach First. I am lucky to have had ‘encouragers’ in my life to push me to do things when I have doubted myself.

Aquaculture is an industry which desperately needs more women and young talent so my advice is get involved, never stop learning and surround yourself with people that encourage you to achieve your potential (and make sure you encourage others along the way too).

Speaking of which, highlights of my SAIC internship this month have included visiting the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group’s fantastic processing facility in Bellshill (SSMG is a co-operative of the shellfish farmers in Scotland). Manging Director Stephen Cameron and Factory Manager Gerard Allison did a great job at showing us around and schooling us about the successes and challenges of the Scottish shellfish industry.

I’ve also continued my work supporting the University of Stirling’s aquaculture network bid in response to the BBSRC and NERC Aquaculture Initiative. Working with the academics at the Institute of Aquaculture has been great and I have learnt a lot about consortium building, proposal writing and communicating effectively with academia and industry.

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