Chukchi Borderland Project

Daily Updates from

our Teacher at Sea


September  8

What is it like to be the Chief Scientist of a research cruise?

Rebecca at work.
  To be a Chief Scientist, you need to be a person who is very organized and has a vision.  By that I mean that this whole trip in essence started off as a conversation over lunch one afternoon about two years ago.  Without the group of scientists on board, having the vision and doing something about it, this trip would have never come to be.  One comment that Rebecca made, which I feel is so true, is that the system allows you to take an idea and quickly turn it into something real. 

  The cruise took a lot of organization and planning to sort out, and Rebecca is still doing that everyday while on board.  She is on call twenty-four hours a day and some of us feel that she never sleeps. 

She always has to keep in mind, 

"What are we all here for?"
"What is the big picture?" 
"How can we best do our science given ice and weather conditions, 
as well as the unexpected?"

...and meanwhile focus as well, on helping the scientists, students, crew and the captain working together as a big team.  It is a huge responsibility.  She needs to know what is happening among the teams of scientists, coordinate which way the ship is heading, make sure everyone is doing their job, and that we are all happy.  That alone can be a hard job.  She is in charge of the schedule, estimating what time the CTD casts will come and how many we have time to do where.  She loves working with this team of people.  "The crew is excellent, the scientists are great, and both have a huge amount of expertise, dedication, and experience.  When you have this combination, it makes being a Chief Scientist, "FUN!" 


My second question to Rebecca was:  "What did it take
  for you to become an Oceanographer?  Education?  Jobs?"

Rebecca and Ron working with the CTD.
  First thing to keep in mind is that Rebecca is English.  Their educational system works a little differently than the American system.  Students graduate at a younger age and spend less time in college due to the differences between the English and American college curriculums.

  Rebecca received a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in Natural Sciences, specializing in Physics and Theoretical Physics.  This degree was earned from the University of Cambridge.  During the summer vacations to earn money, she worked for the Landfill Dump and Waste Disposal Unit of the Harwell Atomic Research Lab where she did chemistry.  Another summer, she worked in Particle Physics but found that too abstract.   This gave her the idea that she wanted to do something more immediately relevant to the environment and to people's lives.  [** Her example is, if someone asks you, "What do you do?", and you answer, "I'm a Physicist", they say no more.  If you say, "I'm an Oceanographer", they give you a chance to explain because it sounds interesting. **]  So, she started a PhD in Oceanography, actually in computer modeling, but also got the chance to go out to sea on her first research cruise aboard RRS Discovery, (a British research ship, RRS=Royal Research Ship).

RRS Discovery


Knut, Rebecca and Ron at work.
  She was doing things similar to what I am doing on this trip, being a "greenie", essentially an extra pair of hands.  She loved seeing the power of the sea, and being part of a team of scientists and crew set on understanding how the oceans work.  This gave her the sea-fever.  She went back home and decided that whatever it took she would be at sea.  She earned her PhD in Oceanography, from the University of Oxford and since the science world is international, she applied for jobs in Germany.  At the same time she was offered a job in Germany, an opportunity came up for another sea-trip, this time working with CFCs.  So, she went on the cruise and postponed the job until she got back.  Upon taking the new job in Germany, she was back at sea again, now doing work with moorings, along-side a UW mooring specialist, Clark Darnell, who taught her the mooring business.  Clark at the time was working with UW professor Knut Aagaard (who is also on this trip).  This link finally led to Rebecca coming and working at the University of Washington.  She has been working there for three and a half years and loves it.