Ian Miller: Marine Biologist for American Careers

This article originally appeared in American Careers magazine

Ian Miller has a job that he loves.  Miller works for the non profit Surfrider Foundation, and while it may seem that he gets paid to surf all day, he actually works to protect the ocean.  

The organization (http://www.surfrider.org) was founded in 1984.  Currently it has over 40,000 members across the globe.  

"Our contribution to local communities," Miller says, "is to work to improve water quality making coasts healthier places for both people and animals, to improve beach access so that we can get to the beach for a walk, a swim or a surf, and to organize beach clean-ups so that beaches are nice places to be."

MIller describes the main types of jobs at Surfrider.  "The people who work for Surfrider tend to be environmental scientists, community organizers and administrators.  The environmental scientists know how to understand scientific papers and speak the language of science.  The organizers know how to organize communities, get people together and build consensus on environmental issues.  The administrators keep the organization going.  They are the receptionist at the front desk, the media director, the people who manage Surfrider products and keep inventory, the accountants and the fund- raisers who write and manage grants for the organization."

Miller works as one of the community organizers.  His job title is Washington State Coordinator.  Much of Miller's work week is spent meeting with people and talking about issues like water quality, how contamination in the water affects marine life and how students can help keep water clean. He presents frequently in schools and also to large groups of adults at events like aquarium exhibits openings and coastal events.  Miller sometimes uses geographic information systems (a mapping technology) in his job, and often uses chemistry and physics to explain water contamination and ocean currents.

In 1995, Miller graduated from Huxley College (Bellingham, Washington) after studying marine ecology.  Then he did several outdoor environmental projects in Oregon, Washington, Vermont and New Hampshire.  He tried out being a fisheries biologist in Alaska, working as a sea kayak guide and working as a marine biology technician in Hawaii. 

"I have a lot of professional experience with environmental education which is handy," Miller says, "as it trained me to talk to lot of different types of people about environmental issues."  He recommends internships and volunteering with an environmental agency as great ways to learn about the environmental field and to gain skills for a future job. 

Miller's day to day work has a lot of variety.  "I spend most of my time traveling around the state organizing and training our members and volunteers to do particular activities.  This varies- it could be anything from a water quality monitoring training to organizing a campaign to get a particular piece of legislation passed.  I also attend government hearings and coast-focused festivals to represent the Surfrider Foundation."

There is no particular work week for Miller.  Every day brings a different location and a different set of people.  "If I am at home, I work out of my home office, preparing for presentations or trainings and writing letters and grants.  If I am traveling, then I am attending meetings, putting on trainings, or spending time with people who might be able to help us accomplish a task."

Miller feels very fortunate to work in the environmental protection field.  "These people give everything to the organization because they love the coast.  Getting to work on a variety of different projects is also personally rewarding.  The variety is something that you don't get in every job.  The people are the main thing.  People know they have to work to protect what they love.  This is exactly what I want to be doing right now.  Ever since early in my life I knew I wanted to work to protect our oceans and coasts.  I get to do it ever day."

Photo courtesy of Ian Miller.