Spotlight on early-career researcher: Rachael Hall

My name is Rachael Hall, and I am currently doing my PhD at Heriot-Watt University (UK), while based at the Scottish Association for Marine Science in Oban, Scotland. I am a marine ecologist with a research interest in the effects of anthropogenic activities on the functioning of coastal ecosystems. I have been a part of One Ocean Hub since 2021, researching the impact of mangrove loss on sea floor and food-web functioning along the coast of Ghana.  

What’s your greatest achievement since you started working for the One Ocean Hub?  

My greatest achievement has been conducting two successful rounds of sample collection in Ghana, with the help of my colleagues both there and in the UK. We collected a wide range of samples including fish, crustaceans, and sediments, as well as conducting experiments to examine carbon cycling. Coordinating and performing this work was a steep learning curve for me and provided me with numerous experiences which have informed how I would plan and conduct research projects in the future. The research that came out of this work will hopefully prove useful in highlighting the need for sustainable management of mangroves as part of ecosystem-based management of fisheries in the region.  

How does your work contribute to shaping the One Ocean Hub’s interdisciplinary endeavours?  

My work provides clear examples of the negative impacts of mangrove deforestation, which can be used to back up the requirement for improved legal protection for these habitats in Ghana. Evidence of the potential for mangrove degradation to affect fisheries and therefore the communities which rely upon them could also be used by other members of the Hub community to integrate the importance of sustainably managing mangrove forests across our areas of work.  

What opportunity has the Hub provided you to lead on innovative research? How has the Hub enhanced your leadership skills? 

Working with the Hub has given me the opportunity to conduct novel research in mangrove habitats, by providing connections with a team of highly capable field and laboratory technicians who made the sample collection possible. This experience helped enhance my leadership skills as I was responsible for coordinating the work, which I did by utilising the different skills and knowledge of the members of our field team.  

What, in your view, have been the Hub’s most impactful activities? 

I think that the Hub’s work in bringing the experiences of women into their research and decision-making processes has been some of the most impactful activities. In Ghana, women in coastal fishing communities are involved in many aspects of fish harvesting, processing, and selling, but due to not having a legally recognised status in small scale fisheries they are often treated unequally, for example, being unable to receive loans targeted to fisheries. Work done by Hub researchers in Ghana has helped highlight this issue, and workshops including a pop-up Legal Clinic have helped raise awareness of women’s rights and status under human rights law. For more information: Read here.

What are the aspects of working in a collaborative environment such as the One Ocean Hub that you value the most? 

I have really valued the opportunity to meet other early-career researchers in Ghana and being able to discuss our individual projects and find connections between them. This will hopefully lead to more collaborative projects with a bigger impact, due to a combination of different data types and perspectives.  

What are the challenges and new demands that early-career researchers face today?  

I would say that a major challenge faced by early-career researchers (ECRs) is the uncertainty related to the short length of most post-doctoral projects, meaning that researchers will likely have to jump between many projects and institutions over a short period of time. Compared to alternative career paths, this means that ECRs are less able to settle into life in one location and build up long-term connections with other researchers. The short duration of these projects also limits their scope, reducing the likelihood of ECRs to contribute to highly impactful research. These short projects can also be a beneficial, providing experience living in different places and working on a variety of different topics, if you are in the privileged position to cope with the uncertainty of breaks between pay checks!  

What is your advice to fellow early-career researchers working on a global development project?  

To use the opportunity to make connections with colleagues working in other countries to both expand your understanding of what it means to be a researcher in different places, and to build up a network of contacts for future projects.  

Related SDGs:

  • Life below water