Tom Cresswell had a lightbulb moment while snorkelling with manatees (dugongs) in Florida at the ripe old age of 13. “I thought, yep. This is exactly what I want to do,” recalls Tom.
He’d been lucky enough to have a passionate science teacher with a personal interest in oceanography, who integrated marine science into their standard science unit. Add on years of sailing experience, and growing up by the beach in Plymouth, England and you’ve got yourself a marine scientist in the making.
Tom studied a Bachelor of Science in ocean science at the University of Plymouth, and later a Master’s degree and PhD… but chose to take the scenic route to study. Five years between degrees was spent exploring the world and doing jobs that had “nothing to do with science.”
He worked behind the counter of a ski rental shop so he could hit the slopes on his time off. Then he sailed the Pacific ocean and kept afloat by teaching others how to drop anchors and hoist sails.
“Too often we rush young people to go to uni and they end up doing things they’re not interested in. They end up with huge debt, and they’re not very successful as a result.”
“All those years travelling really reinforced the fact that science is my passion. Follow whatever you want to do and don’t let others dictate what you should be doing,” he says.
As an ecotoxicologist and research scientist at ANSTO, Tom’s investigating the effects of coal and gold mining runoff on the local ecosystems and animals, like yabbies for example. He tracks the amount of pollution absorbed by the yabbies through food and water, and how quickly the pollution is later released, when the yabbies are placed in clean water.
“We can do this using live-animal radioanalysis,” says Tom. That’s one of the great things about nuclear science; the yabbies don’t have to be sacrificed for testing and can be analysed multiple times for more accurate data.
Tom’s research is helping to protect precious local ecosystems from the consequences of human pollution.
“My number one driver is making a difference,” says Tom. “I’m not single handedly saving the world, but I’m taking incremental, realistic steps to affect change.”
TO GET THERE: Visit ANSTO’s website
Tom’s pathway to becoming an ecotoxicologist at ANSTO
> > Bachelor of Science (Hons 1) in Ocean Science, University of Plymouth
> > Master of Science in Applied Marine Science, University of Plymouth
> > PhD in Applied Sciences, RMIT University and CSIRO Land and Water
> > Research Scientist, Radioecology and Ecotoxicology at ANSTO
“My number one driver is making a difference. I’m not single handedly saving the world, but I’m taking incremental, realistic steps to affecting change.”
Author: Eliza Brockwell
Eliza is the Digital Producer for Careers with STEM. Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.