National Careers Week: The Research Scientist

Chris Yesson

To celebrate National Careers Week we’re looking at a range of animal-based careers here at ZSL!  Meet some of our colleagues to find out more about their current roles and their career paths. 

Meet Chris Yesson, a Research Fellow within the Institute of Zoology...

photo - ZSL researcher Chris Yesson examines a starfish onboard the research vesselWhat does your role involve at ZSL? 

I spend most of my time split between working at my desk at home and in the office. I spend my time doing data analysis, writing research papers & grant applications, and supervising research students.  I work on a variety of projects from analysing seabed habitats in Greenland, to population genetics of cold water corals, to monitoring seaweeds around the UK.

I get to go on fieldwork at least once a year, which is often on a research cruise, taking images of the seabed to look for new habitats and assess the impact of trawling on benthic (sea floor) ecosystems.

It’s great to be able to work directly with the fisheries of Greenland, providing information to allow for more sustainable management of fish stocks. I also do coastal surveys in the UK and last year I got my drone pilot licence and am looking forward to expanding my work looking at kelp habitats on the south coast of England. 

I enjoy the opportunity to conduct outreach, whether that is visiting local schools to bring awareness of inaccessible threatened marine habitats to children in novel ways or sharing my research with the general public at science stalls.

photo - Chris and a colleague process samples in the lab

Why did you decide to pursue a career in conservation science? 

I used to be a management consultant, but the long hours, regular deadlines and high stress levels were making me ill. I chose to move into conservation science for the feel good factor, where I could do something that is making a difference to our environment. When your work leads to new protected areas in the Arctic then it is extremely rewarding.

photo - Chris examines a long piece of seaweed on the seashoreWhat's the best thing about your job?

I like the mental stimulation of conducting novel research and finding out things about places that few people have ever seen. I love researching in Greenland and working to try to raise awareness of the unique habitats that are there. But even closer to home we have valuable marine habitats that are worthy of protection, helping to foster appreciation for these out-of-sight and out-of-mind places is very fulfilling. 

What are the challenges associated with your job?

I guess like everyone else there is the daily struggle not to spend too much time reading & responding to emails, as well as finding a balance between all the administrative obligations of managing staff & students and doing the fun stuff of novel science.

The science itself is challenging, so much of the deep-sea is poorly studied, so something as (apparently) simple as identifying the animals we see in our seabed images can be very difficult because there aren't any Collins field guides to the sea squirts / brittlestars / sponges / etc of the Arctic. The fieldwork can be frustrating too, as we have such a small window of opportunity to conduct our surveys, which must be booked months or even years in advance, and this can be entirely scuppered by bad weather as we can't safely deploy cameras in high winds, strong waves or excessive sea ice. Patience is a real virtue in this job. 

photo - Chris prepares a camera, on the side of the boat, ready to lower it into the sea.

What advice would you give anyone wanting to work in conservation science?

Be prepared to be flexible, try new things and apply your skills in different ways. Your career path is not set because of choices you made/make at the age of 18. It is never too late to change direction and try something new. My undergraduate degree was in Maths and I used to analyse company accounts to help banks pick credit-worthy companies. I would never have guessed that I could re-deploy those skills to analyse patterns of marine diversity to identify and help protect threatened marine habitats. 


Has National Careers Week got you thinking about your dream career? If you’d like to find out more about the range of animal careers available and how to get into them, ZSL London Zoo is running it’s annual Animal Careers Conference on the 16th April 2020. There you’ll find out all about what it takes to become a conservationist and discover many other animal careers you may not have thought of!

find out more about our animal careers conference

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