Interview with Johanna Baily

Dr Johanna Baily is a European boarded veterinary pathologist and fish vet working as a lecturer at the Institute of Aquaculture, University of Stirling. She has a Masters in Aquatic Veterinary Studies from the University of Stirling and a PhD in Grey seal pathology from the University of St Andrews.

What inspired you to become involved in aquaculture?

I have always been fascinated by water, or more specifically, whatever lives under its surface and I spent many happy hours poking around rockpools as a child. Later, as a vet student, I was drawn to aquaculture as a farming method that is hugely entwined with the environment. Successful fish rearing is only possible if the environment is taken into careful consideration and getting involved in this field meant merging both the understanding of disease and the intricacies of the wider environment which to me is fascinating.

Briefly describe your aquaculture career

I undertook an MSc in Aquatic Veterinary Studies in Stirling, quite a few years ago now, on the basis that it would at least be an interesting year, even if I never was lucky enough to pursue this avenue of veterinary medicine. Shortly afterwards I was taken on by the Fish Vet Group and fell in love with the West Coast of Scotland where I was working for a wide range of fish farming companies.  Recognising a gap in fish pathology knowledge, I took on a three-year residency in pathology at the Royal Dick Veterinary school in Edinburgh. Shortly after completing this I got distracted by a PhD in grey seals before moving back into clinical fish work and Stirling University where I now hold a lectureship in aquatic pathology.


Which individuals or organisations in aquaculture have you found particularly inspirational?

There are too many characters to name them all, but I was incredibly fortunate to have my early career shaped by a few well-known culprits: Profs Rod Wooten, Christina Sommerville, Randolph Richards, Jimmy Turnbull, Hugh Ferguson and Dr Tony Wall, all pioneers in the world of fish disease. Hugh, in particular, opened the door to the world of fish pathology and sparked my interest in the field.

How important has networking been to your career?

Networking has been hugely important to my career but also one of the most enjoyable parts of it. I have been really lucky to work with a huge range of clients, colleagues, students, collaborators, employers and friends over the years. Opportunities don’t fall from the sky but rather stem from fortuitous conversations or good personal rapport with people. It’s so important to nurture relationships and to realise that, in a small field such as aquaculture, everything and everyone is interconnected.

During your career, have you noticed inequalities in the sector, be it in policies or culture? If yes, what actions do you think would best address those issues?

I have been hugely impressed by the aquaculture sector, with the willingness to take people at face value and give them a chance. As a woman, I felt very little prejudice in the sector which is in stark contrast to my early career as a large animal vet in rural France where, as a young female, you were immediately sized up and required to prove your worth before being deemed acceptable.

The policies and culture change I would like to see do not relate specifically to aquaculture. It is important that we dispel the stigma around employing young women through fear of them having children by promoting equal parental leave and by supporting male colleagues who wish to take a bigger parental role. It’s inspiring to see more women balancing careers with families than in previous generations, but women still undertake the majority of childcare duties, and I am personally finding it very difficult to regain career momentum after two periods of maternity leave. I would like to see better recognition of the value of part time employees and for a healthy work life balance to be embraced by all whatever their family situation. Remote and flexible working is a paradigm shift in making this a reality.

What is your proudest aquaculture-related achievement to date?

It’s got to be seeing our MSc students spreading their wings each year after the course and knowing that they’re at the very start of exciting and hugely diverse careers all over the world. Meeting up with past students at conferences is a highlight of my professional life.

What advice would you give to someone (man or woman) looking to start a career in the aquaculture sector, or progress their existing career?

Buy some good waterproofs and warm neoprene wellies… No seriously, I would say “go for it!”. It’s a really exciting and highly professional sector with great opportunities for innovation, travel and with great colleagues. Make sure you nurture your transferable skills and keep an open mind to new ideas, opportunities and other fields along the way, remembering that careers are rarely linear. Try to carve out your own specific niche or skillset on the way which will mean you make your own place in the aquaculture community.

What do you think will be the key drivers/areas for innovation for Scottish aquaculture in the next decade?

In the short term, in the field of fish disease, rapid diagnostic tests and biomarkers (ideally non-lethal or non-invasive) are likely to be a key area of development. Long term, and hopefully not in the next decade, I think the biggest driver is going to be climate change which will impact the availability of feed sources, emerging infectious diseases or shifts to novel/different fish species.

Read more interviews