Oceanographer Sally Thorpe had wanted to visit Antarctica since she was little.
“I was interested in geography and the environment, so I took Environmental Sciences degree. It let me study a range of different subjects including physical oceanography which I loved.”
After that, Thorpe was presented with the opportunity to complete a PhD in physical oceanography with fieldwork in the Antarctic.
“This opportunity seemed tailor-made and led to multiple cruises in the Southern Ocean and to my current job with the British Antarctic Survey. It still seems too good to be true!”
These days, she works on a project studying krill distribution made possible by a grant from the Antarctica Wildlife Research fund.
Her career advice to aspiring scientists is simple – you have to try many things before you find your passion.
“Try and find out about as many different science areas as possible while doing your degree. Take a variety of modules where possible, go to seminars by visiting scientists, do field trips if they’re on offer. Work out what it is that you’re really interested in and go from there.”
She adds: “Don’t fear math! It is so useful in so many different subjects.”
Get an overview
Ari Friedlaender, associate professor at the Oregon State University, studies the movement patterns and foraging behaviors of the largest krill predators - humpback whales.
Friedlander’s advice to young scientists who want to research Antarctica is to get an overview of previous research related to the region.
“We can tell a lot about whales, but you also have to understand how the whole ecosystem works. It is important to take advantage of what other people have done in the region before and what they plan on doing. It is critical in science.”
Good work equals new opportunities
Christian S. Reiss at the US National Marine Fisheries Service, recommends young scientists do their best to pursue exciting opportunities.
“Science is an individual pursuit. It is about how you creatively think about the world, you follow an interest and you end up places where you would never have thought and take opportunities as they come up. Those opportunities arise from doing good work.”
Get out there
Mingshun Jiang, an oceanographer and research associate professor at Florida Atlantic University, like Reiss, stumbled onto this field by accident. Jiang grew up in China and didn’t see the ocean until he was in his twenties. He never imagined the ocean would later become an important part of his life and career.
“My background is in mathematics, and I had little knowledge in the field of oceanography when I was in college. One of my mentors at the university had been working in the Antarctic for a long time, and this is how I started working in this area,” says Jiang.
He advises young scientists to go where the subject of their research is.
“Spend more time in the ocean. Nowadays we have computers and models that can tell you pretty much anything. However, we still must be out there, observe and measure in the environment we are researching.”