• Lewis Stagnetto

Climbing the Rock

Updated: Sep 28, 2019

The Road to Research


As a Marine Biologist, I have been researching phytoplankton in the Straits of Gibraltar with the ultimate aim of understanding how carbon cycling is working in the region.


This dynamic marine environment is crucial for investigating phytoplankton communities and determining factors which drive changes in their structure each year. Locally, the importance of researching the Straits has been recognised with the opening of the University of Gibraltar in 2015 and there has subsequently been a small resurgence in the scientific community coming back into the public interest.


But how did I get to this point and what drove me to choose a researching pathway in life, I suspect, like most people, the answer is more convoluted than one might think. At 18 years old I began reading a Computer Science degree at Nottingham Trent in the UK. I was very unsure of the choices I had made. Computers are a powerful tool, no doubt, but they didn’t inspire me. I was often impressed with what people could programme and how efficient the code could be. But coding required vision and patience and I was lacking in the latter. Hours spent in front of code quickly convinced me that a job as a developer was not for me. Not one to give up, I persevered and three years later I graduated and quickly began working in the city of London. Investment banks seemed like a good career move, money was good and opportunities endless. But hardly six months into the experience I realised that this choice was also wrong and the consequences were mounting. Worse still, happiness was starting to feel like a friend that had gone on holiday. I needed to take action.


Back at home in Gibraltar, I had been a qualified diver for a good number of years and many people had commented at how my face lit up every time I spoke about the sea. Looking back, it should have been an obvious choice. But how? University again? What about the costs? A daunting task indeed for a dramatic change in tack.


I applied and was successfully secured a place at Southampton University. At around the same time, I applied as a volunteer at the London Aquarium and began learning the ropes. It was a useful duo because much of the theory I was learning at University was readily applied in many of my aquarium tasks. I kept my head down and worked hard. Then it happened.





Many of the people working at the Aquarium were experts in husbandry but they often lacked the technological tools to help them in their jobs. I had found a niche for myself. Within months of starting, I had begun changing the way data was recorded and processes were completed. Excel was my friend but so were a whole host of other skills I had acquired in Nottingham. The volunteer job morphed into paid work and I was on my way. Success often drives more success and the wins at the Aquarium had spurred me on. Within four years of starting at Southampton, I had qualified with my Marine Biology degree and I was ecstatic! Unlike the feeling that I had when completing my Computer Science degree, this felt good. I was on the right path now, I knew it.


After Southampton, I pondered staying in the UK but unfortunately, health concerns brought me back to Gibraltar. I remember returning and lamenting giving up the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. but this time the choice had been removed from me. Within a few years of being back in Gibraltar, my health had returned and one day was called by a friend of mine. He was involved in the creation of a Gibraltarian University and was interested to know if I would consider researching a Ph.D. I can honestly say that the thought to let the opportunity pass never even crossed my mind and within 6 months I had started.


Today I have been researching for four years. My transition to Marine Biology is still in progress, as work in the field is hard to come by. Computer science has always put bread on the table but Marine biology has always put a smile on my face. I continue to work at finding solutions to scientific problems by relying on my computer science. I like to think that the cross over between the fields is a hallmark of my work. Locally, my wife and I have established a charity called The Nautilus Project. We work to bring science education to local people with a particular focus on children. Whilst the project is exactly what I needed to drive me forward I owe so much to my wife who as a non-scientist, is so involved and supportive of the work we do. The transition from a naïve mistake at 18 years old has been a long one but correcting it has been worth every day invested. I cannot wait to see what is left to come.




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