Six Questions with SWMS – Meghan Donohue

Six Questions with SWMS is a series of interviews with women across marine science with a wide range of career paths, degrees, and experiences. 


Meghan Donohue (image credit: WHOI)

What is your current job, and how did you end up there?

I am a Senior Engineering Assistant at WHOI for the Mooring Operations and Engineering Group.  After I graduated with a degree in Marine Science Physics and a USCG Mate’s license so I could work as crew on research vessels, I ended up working for Scripps Institution of Oceanography as a Restech.  A restech is basically a shipboard technician who manages the deck, the equipment, the shipboard labs, the shipboard computer programs, and is the logistics coordinator.  While I was doing that, I was feeling out what I wanted to specialize in.  I really liked doing mooring work, so I made connections with the head of the Mooring Group at WHOI and I became lucky when a job opening came up in this group.

What is your favorite thing about marine science, or your research field more specifically?

My favorite thing is going out to sea and doing field research.  There is nothing greater than being on the back deck of a ship working with a team of people all focused on achieving the same thing… using the tools of the trade to acquire data for the scientists to better understand and increase the knowledge of the world regarding our oceans and planet.

What is your greatest professional/educational accomplishment?

My greatest educational accomplishment is realizing you don’t need a master’s degree or a PhD to do what you love.  It took me many many years to figure that out since I was trained as an undergrad to continue my oceanographic education and expected to pursue a PhD.  The knowledge that I have now is not taught in any master’s or PhD program, which is a shame because there needs to be a greater focus on the technology of oceanography.

My greatest professional accomplishment has been working with undergrads, grad students, and post-docs from around the world, teaching them how to acquire data and the realities of working in oceanography and providing them with whatever resources they may need.  Seeing them get inspired and watching them grow after I have worked with them is amazing.

What are your goals for the next six years?

My goals are always evolving and currently I haven’t figured out what my new work goals are.  Everything for me right now is focused on figuring out how to manage being a seagoing mother with very young children.  A feat on its own when you are shoreside and an incredible logistics and emotional challenge for the parents and children when you are seagoing.

Megan Donohue, wearing a hat
Megan Donohue (image credit: WHOI)

What advice would you give the six-years-ago version of yourself?

I guess I’m still following the same advice: tough it out and focus on what you enjoy the most… There are always s**t parts to every job and to every company.

Our theme for our 4th annual fall symposium was “Swimming in Confidence: Declaring your Scientific Authority.” How do you increase your self-confidence?

Self Confidence is tricky.  After being in the business for 20 years (eek, I’m old), you learn that self-confidence will ebb and flow.  It is okay for it to fluctuate.  Sometimes little things will give you a huge boost and sometimes something minor will knock you down for a while.  Try to stay focused on your goals and when you’re feeling low take a step back and try looking at your career/life from a different perspective.  Think about how far you have come from when you first started in the field.

Remember: you don’t have to be perfect at what you do.  It is okay to have a shaky/quivering voice when you are speaking in front of a group, it is okay to be embarrassed in front of co-workers… Don’t compare yourself to others, you don’t know their whole story even if they are your work BFF. Everyone has a unique skill set with some overlapping qualities, just always be you and you will thrive!