4 “must get” items for freshman fisheries students

by Brandon Peoples

Did your high school counselor have any good tips for you when you said you wanted to be a fish biologist? Probably not. In this week’s post, I clarify a few misconceptions you may have about what you’ll encounter in the next few years.

If you want to be successful, here are four things you need to “get”:

Get ready for math. Few of us get into natural resource science simply because we enjoy math. Most of us just want to be outside, on a boat or in the creek doing field work. Believe me, there will be plenty of that…but fisheries science is way more interesting than ‘just being outside’.

Learning solid field methods is critical, but all that time on the water won’t mean anything unless you know how to analyze your data. And trust me—once all those number actually mean something, you’ll enjoy it much more. Statistics are one of scientists’ most powerful tools. Without stats, we can’t do our jobs.

von bert
Don’t stress. This is the von Bertelanffy model, which allows us to model fish growth. Source.

Get a job. In the next few years, you’ll take classes from some of the top minds in your field. But no class can give you the full breadth of information or experience in a subject. Much of your education will happen completely outside of coursework by working side-by-side with professionals.

This is an exciting time for you! Take those summer technician jobs and figure out what you enjoy. More importantly, figure out what you don’t enjoy. That 10-week summer internship with the state DNR may not pay as much as living back with your parents and mowing lawns, but it will absolutely pay off on your résumé four years from now.

As a freshman, my first job was helping a grad student capture, tag and track paddlefish.

Get a mentor. Mentors in our field come in many forms, but they all have two things in common: they have more experience than you do, and they can help you tremendously.

Sometimes a mentor is a professor who will help you plan your classes and write a reference for your job search. Sometimes a mentor is a sophomore who was in your situation a year ago. Sometimes a mentor is your summertime employer who you met at an AFS meeting. Regardless, don’t let yourself get dragged down by being too proud or nervous to ask for help!


This AFS Press book contains over 70 mentoring vignettes.  Learn the “what I know now that I wish I knew then!” lessons now rather than later!
Future of Fisheries, co-authored by our own Dr. Lynch, is packed with examples of mentorship in fisheries science


Get ready to move. One major reality of our field is that we often have to move around to find the right opportunities. You may be able to find summer work experiences in your own neck of the woods. But there’s a much slimmer chance of finding the right graduate school or professional position right near home.

Don’t limit yourself by restricting your possibilities to within a 50-mile radius of home. Get out. Explore. Go somewhere new. You may just find it’s where you belong…and you’ll definitely be better for the experience. And if it’s your goal to get back to your hometown/state/continent, keep an eye out for jobs in the area. Maybe you’ll come back to manage the resources that attracted you to the profession in the first place!

Want to know how else to be successful in fisheries? See another post just for freshman fisheries students.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Get ready to rub your nose is some prose. The ability to communicate what your statistics mean to your peers and supervisors–and to those who foot the bill–is an essential skill.

  2. Paul Gregory says:

    When I took fisheries statistics at Humboldt State in 1960, we used a Rotary Monroe calculator to run a Standard Deviation. It took all afternoon to run twenty pairs of data. And then we used a slide rule for the square root. I was a Marine Biologist for the Calif. Dept. of Fish and Game for 38 years where we were lucky enough to have statisticians. We quickly learned to meet with one of them to help design our experiments. We did not have to be statisticians, just know how to talk with them.

  3. Students should also buy and read “The AFS Guide to Fisheries Employment” to begin setting themselves up for a career and to know what’s out there. Also be sure your curriculum is going to meet the specifications to become a “Certified Fisheries Professional”.

  4. Gary Sprague says:

    The beginning of your article made me laugh. I got a totally blank look from my high school councilor when I said I wanted to study fisheries (in 1974). Also got no help. I also had difficulties getting good information from the college. The advice in the article is good: 1) working seasonal jobs, 2) moving around, and 3) statistics. I would add that it is good early in a career to get a variety of experiences. In my case, while I moved up in harvest management, my previous experience in hatcheries and hydropower got me a job that I stayed in for 16 years. Volunteer work also helped with some positions.

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