While I was still doing my undergraduate degree at Rhodes University, a girl I vaguely knew told the story about how a misguided ‘grown-up’ had put his change into her morning coffee. To be fair, she was sitting outside a store in what can only be called pyjamas, staring forlornly into space with a half-empty mug clutched between her hands. I remember being amused but also appalled. I certainly didn’t blame the hapless man who thought he had stumbled across a beggar rather than a bedraggled PhD student on the verge of nervous collapse.
This story gets funnier to me the closer I get to becoming a fully-fledged PhD student. And scarier. How long before I’m the token crazy girl stumbling around the cobbled streets of St. Andrews? In the last month alone, I’ve had to move countries, rage helplessly as my satellite stopped communicating with earth and then come to terms with the fact that my tags didn’t make it to Marion. When relaying this tale of woe to post-docs, they pat me on the head and make comforting noises rather than being horrified. In fact, sometimes their stories are worse than mine. From study fields burning down (hello, JS) to supervisors becoming violent alcoholics… It’s par for the course, apparently.
My own supervisor is of the opinion that if you come up with a hypothesis, your experimental set-up works and data flows to you as if by magic, you’ve done something wrong. According to Lars-the-guru, real science happens when everything goes awry. Like fungus contaminating Alexander Flemming’s samples while he was away on holiday. A massive disaster… more commonly known as Penicillin.
It’s no wonder scientists are all mad.
My mom keeps asking me what I plan to do now that I won’t get data from Marion until December 2013. The truth is: I don’t know yet. But the Southern Ocean is a pretty big place. It’s also warming faster than the global average so there is a lot that NEEDS to be studied. I guess it comes down to balancing what’s possible with what interests me. Luckily, just about everything about the Antarctic blows my mind, so perhaps the real challenge will be narrowing it down into what can be achieved in under 3 years.
If you’re willing and able, I plan to drag you along on this journey of “what next?”
My PhD will still encompass measuring fluorsecence using giant seals tagged with lasers, but from WHERE in this hostile ocean? I’ll explain why this factor is so important in due course… but first I’ll need to get you comfortable with some physics. Maybe on Monday, after I’m done mourning over missing AfrikaBurn.