My name is Dr. Noirin Burke and I am the Director of Education at Galway Atlantaquaria, the National Aquarium of Ireland, where I have worked for over 10 years.
In my role, I work on education workshops with students of all ages, am part of the Irish Ocean Literacy Network; and have been on the board of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group for over 6 years.
I am also part of the Explorers Educational Programme; a marine based primary school programme funded by the Marine Institute. I love my job, and feel privileged to work in the marine education sector, promoting the principles of Ocean Literacy along with my colleagues at the aquarium.
Growing up on a farm in Tipperary, I always had a huge interest in nature and wildlife, and was inspired by the Tom McCaughren books ‘Run with the Wind’ and ‘Run Swift, Run Free’. I enjoyed Maths and Science in school but preferred practical hands-on activities to written exams, which I found challenging. I completed an Honours Degree in Applied Ecology in the National University of Ireland Cork, before travelling to the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology to complete a PhD on Herring Stocks around Ireland. I hope that I can instil a love for the oceans in my own children, Roisin and Ciaran. My favourite marine animals are cuttlefish and sharks!
Has your opinion of STEM changed since you were a teenager?
Yes. I had no idea what STEM was when I was a teenager. I struggled a bit in school and found it very hard to know what I wanted to do after my leaving certificate. I always enjoyed Maths and Science and had very little idea how technology and engineering were part of my everyday life. I now know STEM is part of what I do every day, at work and at home.
In your opinion, what is the biggest myth about STEM careers?
That they are only for people who are academic or really brainy.
Do you believe that there is enough being done to encourage girls to study STEM and pursue STEM careers?
I think showcasing more female role models, and also highlighting the wide variety of possibilities within STEM will help to encourage more boys and girls to consider STEM careers.
Describe an interesting day in your current position.
On an interesting day I might be involved in a school workshop at the aquarium, based on maths and tank design or engineering and designing and making small scale flood defences. I might work together with the education and marketing team at the aquarium on new content or signage for one of our native species aquarium, or attend a meeting where I explore new partnerships we can be part of to help promote ocean literacy in Ireland.
What do you love about your current role?
I love the variety of my work, and how it involves working with people of all ages around a topic I love, the Ocean. I love the positivity you get working in education and the ethos of sharing what you find amongst the educational community. I love being part of the Team at the aquarium, the Explorers Education Programme and the Irish Ocean Literacy Network and getting to collaborate with friends and colleagues who are also passionate about the marine environment.
What has been the most surprising element of your job?
How much impact simple things can have, and how important connecting things back to people’s everyday lives is to engage them in conversation. Also acknowledging that not everyone loves the ocean and seeing their points of view.
What has been your most exciting career moment to date?
Being a co-author on a chapter in ‘Exemplary Practices in Marine Science Education’ published by Springer publications in 2019.
Do you ever get to travel abroad for work?
Yes. I travel abroad 2-3 times a year, to England mainly for work I do with BIAZA, the British and Irish association of zoos and aquariums.
What kind of other experts do you work with on a day to day basis?
I am really lucky to get to work with people from all ranges of the marine industry, including academics, state bodies, NGO’s who are involved in marine biology, geology, fisheries, environmental awareness and care, behavioural change, evaluation, conservation and ocean literacy.
Is your current job, and the work of the wider team, making a difference in the world?
I hope so. Our mission at the aquarium is to present a comprehensive view of the world of water, through clear and interesting displays, informed, helpful staff and exciting live presentations. This is achieved through accurately displaying aquatic life in a manner that reflects their natural habitats, providing an enjoyable and educational environment to learn about the diverse marine ecosystem of Ireland. As Ireland’s largest native species aquarium, we strive to ensure that a visit to us is original and full of wonder, for visitors of all ages and abilities.
What do you hope to achieve in the next year in your current position?
We are currently getting ready to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the aquarium opening in 1999 and are working on updating the signage on a number of our exhibits.
Do you feel that you fit the stereotypical description of a person in your role?
Definitely not. As a farmer’s daughter from an inland county people are often surprised that I ended working in the marine area. Also as someone who struggled with the general secondary school system and just scraped her way into college I sometimes found it hard to believe I ended up working in my dream job.
If a young person told you that they would like to get into your role, what advice would you give them?
Believe in yourself. If you’re passionate about something and not afraid to keep trying, you can achieve it. I believe we often think there is only one way to reach your destination, instead of realising that there are lots of different routes you can take to get to the same end point.
What do you want to see change in the industry in the next 10 years?
Better dissemination of knowledge and more openness to listening to all the stakeholders opinions of issues.
What are your priorities for the year ahead in your role?
Working with the team on exhibits within the aquarium; assisting on collaborations between stakeholders within the Irish Ocean Literacy Network.
Did you complete any sort of placement or internship during your studies? If so, did it prepare you for what you do now?
I carried out my 4th year project as part of a EU funded fisheries discard project at the University of the Algarve. It ultimately took me down the path which lead to my masters and then PhD in Herring Stocks around Ireland in GMIT.