One of the main reasons why I’ve chosen to finally start this blog is because I was lucky enough to receive an internship with the National Science Foundation (NSF) aboard a research vessel bound for…ANTARCTICA.
Many of you have had a lot of questions about the process and what I’ll be doing so I thought I would take the chance to answer my most frequently asked questions and give a little insight on the process of getting cleared to go, etc.
1. Katie…isn’t it cold there? You’ll freeze to death!
It’s actually summer time down there so average temperatures (for this week) have been in the 30’s so it won’t be too cold. But yes, much colder than my inner Texan agrees with. Long underwear, check. You can check the weather here if you’re interested: https://www.wunderground.com/aq/palmer-station
2. Can you bring me a penguin back?
Yeah. This is a solid no. If I can’t have one you can’t either, but I promise to post plenty of pictures. Comment if you want to be added to my email list for whenever I won’t be able to update this blog!
3. What exactly will you be doing on the boat?
I am part of a cruise called LTER (Long Term Ecological Research) and we are doing a lot of things! My primary goal is to handle oceanographic moorings (retrieval and deployment) but since that is such a small portion of the actual research cruise, I’ll be acting as a intern in a couple different labs. I’ll be working with a phytoplankton and zooplankton lab. Most of my job will involve sorting out fish and inverts from trawls and recording data. We work in 12 hour shifts.
4. So are you and David going to be bunk mates?
I get this one a lot. David happens to work on the same ship – but we are both at work, therefore we will not be bunk mates. While we are happy to share this life event together, there’s a certain level of professionalism we both hope to maintain.
5. What do you do in your spare time while on the boat?
I haven’t figured out what exactly I’ll be doing but I love sleep, reading books, and watching movies. I’ll probably be catching up on some shows and a huge list of books that I’d actually like to read (that aren’t scientific). I’ll probably be grudgingly working on my thesis as well.
So these are the five questions I generally get asked the most, besides “When are you leaving/coming back?”
So for the second part of this post, I wanted to talk about the process of actually getting there. I have been working and preparing for this trip since May when I got an email saying I had received a spot!
1. The PQ (Physical Qualification) Process
In order to make it to Antarctica the first thing you have to get out of the way is the medical portion. There are a few diseases or illnesses that will completely disqualify you from even being there. It is mandatory that participants be in good health because access to healthcare is VERY limited (remember folks, you’re in BFE and the nearest healthcare is either Palmer Station which is limited or Punta Arenas, Chile).
Luckily enough, the PQ office is actually located at UTMB in Galveston, TX….right down the street from where I live. They answered any questions I had and saved me from making any mistakes in the process. They also put a rush in on my packet since they had a chance to meet me (they’ve only ever met a handful of people that they actually PQ).
You receive a packet via email that is about 15 pages long of all the different medical tests you need. I had to visit the dentist first and get a little work done, and about 5 million x-rays of all my teeth. This was followed by SEVERAL doctor’s appointments…some are lucky enough to get all of these knocked out in a day but if you know me, you know that one of my biggest fears is needles. So this took some time, coaxing, and David holding my hand.
My first round of visits I had a flu shot and tuberculosis test. Both were terrible for me. The next round of tests were the WORST. I had quite a bit of blood drawn for a full blood chemistry panel. I walked into the lab for the blood draw and warned them that they had one shot to find a vein. Sending their best guy in (who kind of resembled Lil’ Rob) he used the smallest baby needle and the blood started flowing. By the time we had gotten to the last vial, I began feeling woozy. The next thing I knew I woke up feeling sweaty, being fanned, and prompted to tell everyone what year it was. A mop bucket sat ominously in the corner that was not there before. After regaining my wits I was led into a small room with a recliner to “relax” for a few minutes before the next test. I was then left in a restroom with a cup. Being used to peeing in 32 oz. Buccee’s cups at work all summer, well you get it. My legs felt oddly sweaty. I double checked myself because I honestly smelled like I peed myself. Little did I know…after we returned to the car I was filled in on exactly what happened when I passed out giving blood. Passing out + full bladder for urine test = one of your most embarrassing life moments. I had managed to piss my pants as a fully grown 23 year old. And also on David’s shoes. But he was sweet enough not to tell me until after we had left the building. That, my friends, is true love.
Don’t ever say you didn’t read anything juicy on this blog. I just confessed my most embarrassing life moment to you guys – readers you better enjoy this.
The next batch of tests was almost worse than pissing my pants. I spent an entire day in another doctor’s office to get a physical, EKG, hearing test, eye test, etc. Everything was pretty painless except the physical.
Enter Dr. Hottie McHotPants to give me a physical. We spent about thirty minutes going over my EKG and making sure that all my limbs and body parts were “normal”. Then things got weirder. To get to Antarctica…you need a FULL exam. Ladies…things that your “lady doctor” does are not deferred. While receiving my breast exam and trying not to make eye contact with Dr. Hot he made sure to comment “Welp…don’t get to do this in the office very often.” Cue awkward laugh.
There is just one final place that has to be examined if you’re planning to go to the bottom of the world…I’m not really sure why, but it was on the sheet. I was hoping that it was just a little “look see” like everything looks good, no need to explore any further. Wrong. Before I knew it….Dr. Hot was two knuckles deep in places that are as uninhabited as Antarctica itself. Rectal Exams. Something I don’t wish on my worst enemy.
After finishing everything my PQ packet was sent off to be “approved” and after two weeks I was deemed physically qualified. So there you have it folks, be a human pin cushion, have your butt violated, and you can go to Antarctica!
2. Skype Meetings and Interviews
The groups I will be helping the most are from Columbia University in New York and the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences so all communication I had was limited to email and Skype. Other than on video – I have not met any of the people I will be spending the next couple of months with in person!
Do you know what it’s like being a native Texan and trying to pack for Antarctica? What even is cold weather gear? I’ve spent the last few months saving and stock piling everything I need for this trip. Lots of long underwear, wool socks, hats, gloves, things we generally don’t need for our typical shorts and t-shirt weather during Texas Christmases.
4. Preparing to Leave Civilization for ~2 Months
I’m not even sure if I’m mentally prepared to leave the country, much less civilization. This will be a new experience for me as I have never even flown into another country! And I’ll be doing it alone. I will have very limited to no internet at all, an email with a strict data limit, and a satellite phone that works….when it wants to. However, after all the crazy events and sadness I’ve been dealing with in life, I think it’s going to be nice to get away and just reflect for a bit and enjoy what I do.
Merry Christmas ya’ filthy animals. I need to drink some eggnog and make a packing list.
–The Girl With the Big Bass