After graduating from biology in 2019, alumna Summer Kiernan is pursuing her dream career as a television researcher for Natural History Documentaries and explains how her university experience was vital to landing her first role in TV.

From as far back as I can remember, I have always been passionate about knowledge and the sharing of it. I am driven by curiosity and love to find out as much as I can about a particular subject, so the fact I’m now a researcher is rather fitting.  

How my story began

My story started when I came to Portsmouth to study BSc Marine Biology, followed by MSc Aquatic Biology. I found the lecturers to be supportive and I knew I would get lots of hands-on experience in both the laboratory and out in the field. The University is a good place to be a young marine biologist as I think it was second best in the country at the time. 

Travelling all over the world

During my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, I got the opportunity to travel to Indonesia and conduct research for 6 weeks. I can’t tell you how much I learnt during that trip; from living on a remote island with just a few people, to taking 4 planes and a boat to get there! There was no signal which meant I had to pack everything I would need including all my research books, hard drive and back ups.

The invaluable skills and experiences

I took away so much from these experiences and, not only the practical side of field work, but also the intangible benefits – travelling away from home and for an extended period of time, staying positive and self-driven, taking advantage of opportunities even though I was so nervous. I’m a more confident person for it and I know the skills learnt during my course have opened lots of doors for me. They’ve made me into a well-rounded person suitable for a range of roles in science where I can utilise my knowledge and skills in researching, writing and fieldwork.  

I also took advantage of the Careers and Employability Service which I believe was vital in helping me land my first role in TV. They helped me write my personal statement, CV and worked with me to develop my interview skills. I still contact them now for guidance; they were completely invaluable. 

My role as a television researcher

After graduating, I secured a job as a television researcher where I’ve worked on BBC Winterwatch and Wonders of the Celtic Deep. My role involves me working with experts and scientists and extracting as much information as I can from them on different animals. I love that I get to meet so many different people and learn about their passion. 

It’s also my job to coordinate the logistics of filming including equipment, health and safety, transport and accommodation. Once we’ve filmed, I help with post-production by looking through the footage with the producer and editor, ensuring facts are correct and that we’ve captured everything we need.

I love the sense of adventure and that I get to learn something new every day. It can also be challenging as I’m regularly travelling and the days can be very long, but I know how valuable all this experience is.

My advice for students

My advice for students and graduates, which I was given and think about almost daily, is firstly, you don’t know what you like until you’ve tried it – so embrace every opportunity; and secondly, life is a book filled with chapters, only you can decide which ones are long and which are short.
In my 2nd year, I travelled to Mexico for a 10-day field trip. I started each day with breakfast at 7am followed by snorkelling on the coral reef, trekking through the mangroves and practising field sampling techniques. At the end of each day, I had to deliver a paper and present my findings.
Summer Kiernan, BSc Marine Biology (2018), MSc Aquatic Biology (2019)