Guest blog: Aaliyah Malla

Aaliyah Malla is currently an Erasmus Mundus Master’s Student studying Aquaculture Environment and Society at SAMS. Being passionate about aquaculture and education has enabled her to experience some unique opportunities in the Scottish industry, as well as within Europe.

“You know that you’ll have to wear wellies and be outside, right?”

Words, that at the time I did not understand were in fact a loaded statement, were said to me during an internship interview. This statement so far, has been the only time I have been differentiated against for being a woman, in my pursuit of a career in aquaculture. And it’s not the last time that I will make such statements into an exciting and challenging opportunity. Clearly, this first internship was not meant for me, as assumptions were made, and prejudices were formed without truly listening to my motivations, and yes, it was discouraging at first. Nevertheless, individuals who pursue careers that are largely practical, understand what is required of them or else they would not pursue them in the first instance. Women, like myself, are included in this. This is my story of how I got into aquaculture; one that may highlight the great opportunities and fun that studying fish farming can bring to people from anywhere, any age and any gender.

Growing up on the island kingdom of Bahrain, known as “the Pearl of the Gulf”, I have unfortunately witnessed the biological shift from the rich “land of two seas” to the cosmopolitan, yet biologically scarce nation it is today. Knowing that Bahrain, by virtue of its location, possesses abundant finfish and shellfish resources, and witnessing the struggle and lack of conservation efforts of the kingdom, I became increasingly interested in the development of sustainable aquaculture in smaller developing nations and pretty much anything marine related. Being an Austrian/Sudanese woman wanting to study the sea and the opportunities that can come with working with it, I asked myself where does one start or go? Austria is landlocked and Sudan’s perpetual state of transition dictated by the political, economic and social instabilities, eliminated any thoughts about pursuing higher education there.

Fast forward to arriving in Oban and beginning one of the most valuable years of my life. The term studying can often possess connotations that include learning which may be laborious, frustrating and possibly boring for some. Studying a BSc. in Marine Science at SAMS, for me, was as far from any of these connotations as Pluto is from Earth. From conducting sediment grabs and water samples in glorious sunshine, to scientific trawls in classic Scottish conditions (rain and more rain), you quickly learn and adapt to what it means working in and with the elements. And just like that I was hooked and pursuing a career that would allow me to be in and work unapologetically in nature. Wellies and waterproof jackets were the next haute couture and I loved it. A career that combined my love for the outdoors, research and the marine environment was highlighted to me in the module Marine Environmental Impact Assessments and furthered my understanding of the importance of sustainability in the aquaculture industry. The discussion that ensued around the concept of sustainability, emphasised the inextricable link to fish health and welfare - my ears pricked up. From then on, I knew that I needed to find an internship that would allow me to pursue a career in fish health, and where better than here in Scotland?!  

After the first fish health internship opportunity; the one which made me want to prove my practical capabilities and lack of regard for unflattering PPE, I began working on an oyster farm with Judith Vajk from Caledonian Oysters. I got the feel of what it is like to be governed by tides; I loved every minute of it. Fortunately, that same summer, I got offered to do an internship with the Scottish Salmon Company as a fish biologist. This fantastic experience allowed me to work with wonderfully encouraging and knowledgeable women and men, doing what they can to ensure the health and welfare of the fish.

With the fish in mind and a taste of what a career in aquaculture could be like, I applied and got offered a fully funded scholarship for the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master’s Degree in Aquaculture, Environment and Society. Getting the opportunity to travel across Europe and learn about different species and approaches to farming fish/shellfish and their respective challenges has been amazing. As a result, I plan on further expanding this knowledge here in Scotland and sharing the information I have acquired from other countries in my budding aquaculture career. Scotland is the country I wanted to return to to pursue these career goals, as I believe it predominantly strives for diversity and inclusion, even in what is preconceived to be a male dominated industry. 

And with that, it’s time to put my wellies on to go outside and enjoy the Scottish ‘summer’!


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