How my masters degree put me face-to-face with my childhood hero!

Written by Laura LaBeur

Recently the MSc Marine Systems and Policy students were invited to attend the prestigious Monaco Blue Initiative – an event funded by H.S.H Prince Albert II of Monaco to promote ocean awareness and action. The University of Edinburgh hosted this two-day event and concluded by awarding Dr. Sylva Earle with an honorary degree.

The first evening of the event was a formal cocktail evening for mingling and networking. Notably, one of the speeches was from a former Rolex scholar and current Marine Systems student! It was fun to get dressed up and engage with the panellists and high career professionals from organisations such as WWF, IUCN, UNEP, PEW, and many amazing more. These men and women could potentially be our employers one day!

Erin McFadden, MSc Marine Systems and Policies student and 2011 Rolex Scholar

A sweeping glance throughout the room made one thing present to me – Sylvia Earle was in this room! For those of you who don’t know of her – Dr. Sylvia Earle, or as she is affectionately called “Her Deepness”, is one of the greatest marine biologists of this century. If you want to know more about her life and to be inspired by her tireless dedication to our oceans you can watch her documentary on Netflix, Mission Blue. Or similarly you can read one of her many novels or even listen to her TED talk.

Growing up many of my peers wanted to be firefighters, lawyers, dancers, the list goes on and on. But I wanted to be Dr. Sylvia Earle – a leading marine biologist and researcher. I’m pretty sure this woman has spent more time in and under water than not (that’s not a fact – but it should be!) She has done so much for women in science and her list of accomplishments seems endless. Dr. Earle was the first ever female chief scientist at the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In case you aren’t from the USA – THAT IS A REALLY BIG DEAL! Sylvia has led some of the deepest submarine expeditions into previously unexplored depths.

Dr Sylvia Earle, MSc Marine Systems and Policies students and Programme Director Dr Meriwether Wilson

So, here’s how it went: I stood in line waiting my turn to speak to the graciously patient Sylvia. Butterflies filled my tummy whilst I waited in the queue and by the time it was my turn to shake her hand, the brief elevator pitch I had pieced together flew out of my brain and I was basically speechless. I ramble on about how I am from Florida (just like Sylvia!) and how I am so excited to meet her and thank her for all she’s done. Then I’m pretty sure I told her my dissertation title – I’ve blacked out at this point. Overwhelmed. She just held my hand the whole time and gave me some of the most encouraging pats and looked into my soul with her knowing eyes. At the end of my ranting she looked me straight in the face and said, “Kindred spirit, keep up the good work”

It occurs to me that I have just shared the same oxygen with some one who I worship, my idol. Words do not do justice to this experience and I am beyond honored.

Dr Earle joins the University of Edinburgh Alumni

The following day the public was invited to witness the University of Edinburgh award Dr. Sylvia Earle with a degree. It was encouraging to see Sylvia’s excitement and bliss during the ceremony despite her many other achievements. It gives me hope that no matter your gender, age, culture, race or background, if your passion and enthusiasm shine, you can make a difference in your lifetime!

Dr Sylvia Earle, MSc Marine Systems and Policies students and Programme Director Dr Meriwether Wilson

As a final note, I’d really like to thank Prof. Sandy Tudhope and Dr. Meriwether Wilson for allowing the MSc Marine Systems and Policy students this opportunity. This degree means so much to me, but it means even more when I have had an opportunity such as this, to meet my childhood hero!

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