I didn’t know what to write about this week until I read my lovely lab mate Danielle’s post and decided to keep with the theme of fieldwork. After all that’s what summer is all about for an ORCAA student.
I was lucky enough to come into this project on the off-season from classes. Meaning I could go out and look for whales and enjoy the sweet summertime. However, this means I’m unlucky enough to have to wait until fall term to have secure funding, and lets face it, as a grad student financial security is always in the back of your mind. Therefore, I spent my summer supporting myself by bouncing around three different jobs.
The first – marine mammal observing (this helps me get a head start on data collection).
The second – “naturalist” guide aboard the Discovery (the local whale watching company). They also let me throw a few hydrophones in the water every once in a while, to collect even more data!
Finally – coaching gymnastics at the rec center in town (AKA: hanging on to my dream of being an olympic gymnast for as long as I can).
Just kidding, my biggest dream has been becoming a marine research biologist since I was seven years old and it hasn’t changed once.
But the one thing that all of these jobs have in common is the perception about what I do as that marine research biologist. At least three times a week I hear:
“Man, you’ve got the coolest job ever! What’s it like doing this all the time?”
When I’m outside of my science community, I’m usually interacting with people visiting the west coast hoping to see a large gray whale on vacation, or children who haven’t yet figured out that marine biology isn’t just about dolphins and pretty coral reefs.
Therefore, to keep the happy vibes going my typical response to you have the coolest job ever is “yep, its pretty awesome.”
But sometimes… it isn’t.
For me, there are four components that equate to a great day of fieldwork: ocean conditions, marine mammals, the boat itself, and equipment (hydrophones, GPS, CFD, camera, etc.)
So in reality…
“The flow of research season goes a lot like this: whales are present, but ocean is impossible; or ocean is calm but the whales are gone; or both whales and ocean are good but the boat breaks down; or everything is working but the rain last night brought in some fog and ruined the visibility” (From Hawaii’s Humpbacks: Unveiling the Mysteries)
AND EVEN on the rare chance that everything goes right – observing marine mammals is hard and uncomfortable – 14 hours of standing with back pain, squinting into the sun until you see one part of the water that looks a little different then the others. I mean really there isn’t much on earth that’s more enormous than the ocean.
But In my short few months of fieldwork, marine mammal observing has molded me into the type of person that has what it takes to do this kind of research: dedicated, tolerant to pain, boredom, and frustration, and most importantly passionate about what you are doing.
Passion is definitely a prerequisite for the life of an ORCAA student. Graduate school gives you the chance to be reflective and the time to carefully wade through information (two things that are growing scare in our society) I like to think of it this way:
Graduate school: A costly way to pursue learning for learning’s sake. ☺
With that said I will share the greatest piece of advice I’ve received in my short time as a graduate student and that was to build in time to do something at the beginning of your day and at the end of the day, that way “work” only feels like a part of your day and not your whole day. This advice has helped me get through all of the frustrating days of field work.
So here’s a picture from this mornings surf before the boat trip…
Here’s the highlight of the boat trip. Okay, okay, so MAYBE IT IS THE BEST JOB EVER!!!
And as a bonus since I finished my to-do list early, I think ill head to the beach with some friends…Catch ya next month readers!
P.S. as I was writing this, I got word that the flow-through isn’t working on the research vessel. How ironic.