- Client: Oceans Research (employed) (South Africa)
- Responsibilities: Creative direction, Education design, Creative Direction, HTML5 and CSS3, User Experience, User Interface, Logo design, Product Management, Product Design
Goal: Build the next generation of marine wildlife researchers
In 2007 I began working with the South African Marine Predator Lab as a creative design outsource. After attending the company’s internship in 2008 where I got to spend every waking moment with great white sharks, I promptly decided – fudge my current life, I want to do this.
I pitched to the company owners that I would join on site to oversee the production of all creative and design work, in addition to building tools to assist students with their projects. Around this time, they were recognising the growth potential of both the internship model and other sectors they’d built contacts in, such as ecotourism.
Soon after arriving in South Africa in 2009, the company was renamed ‘Oceans’ and child-entities which inherited this title were established for the target areas. Of these, further developing the internship offerings of Oceans Research was identified as the critical priority.
Method: Teach them useful practical skills
Much of the internship program was based around data collection for the studies of our on-site post graduate students. The fundamental workings had been established in the year prior to my arrival. Although my initial focus was on building marketing and communications materials for the program, I soon became more involved with the deliverables and broader strategy. Probably because I kept nagging them to let me.
First and foremost, as the needs of our Post-Grad students could vary considerably (as would weather conditions in Mossel Bay) it was important to establish a series of additional modules to ensure students were consistently engaged with relevant activities. Critical to this and the long term success of the internship, was our focus on the skills developed in these modules being relevant and applicable in marine wildlife research at large. We increased our engagement with local community and wildlife projects, with outreach practices further enhanced by our aquisition of the local aquarium. In addition to hosting educational talks, we were able to give students hands on experience with a variety of practices related to aquarium management.
While great white shark research remained our primary focus, subjects broadened considerably to include local cetaceans and smaller shark species. Students were therefore able to develop skillsets that would appropriate when interacting with more widespread species of marine wildlife. As the diversity of our programs and number of students grew, my focus shifted to general program management. I was responsible for ensuring that every student received as varied an experience as possible and that all of our projects got their fair share of resource allocation.
Conclusion: Results that matter
This was admitadely somehwat a time of chaos. I’d never lived in another country before and the responsibilities I was undertaking were by orders of magnitude more intense, and complex than my previous role – which itself was my first since graduating University. This was likewise the first company the directors had operated, so we were collectively learning everything as we went along while still needing to deliver a high standard of education and training to paying interns.
It’s therefore easy to look back on this time and see some very simple mistakes we made, but that’s all part and parcel of any developmental experience. What we most certainly got right was recognising the value in hands on, practical training. Broadening and deepending the learning experiences meant that over time, we were able to support an increased variety of research projects and address the needs/interests of a more diverse group of students. It was genuinely fulfilling to see the effect these experiences would have on students. It wasn’t rare to see someone quiet and within themselves at the start of their internship, absolutely owning particular duties with confidence by the end of it.
Hundreds of students have since gone through the Oceans Research internship program, many of whom now hold PhDs and operate projects of their own. While there are many things we could’ve done better during the early stages of the internship development, I don’t believe you can argue with results. The consistent output of driven, capable individuals comes as validation that the principles we built the programs around were correct.
From a personal perspective, I spent three years in Mossel Bay and learned an incredible amount in the process. What was initially intended to be a fairly straightforward design position (ie: make some websites and logos) very quickly evolved. Upon reflection, this was arguably my very first ‘Product Management’ job since I was involved with determining exactly what interns got for their money. I was as much involved with determing what the product needed to comprise for it to provide value for money, as I was with developing effective methods for showcasing that value to prospective customers.