Posted by: unlikelygrad | July 16, 2012

not an astronaut

When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. In some ways, it was a good career choice:

*I love science.
*I’m an adrenalin junkie.
*I like traveling to out-of-the-way places. The less well-known, the better.
*I want to be on the cutting edge of discovery.

I’m 40 years old, I’m not an astronaut and never will be. (I did seriously think about trying out a couple of years ago, but yeah…there’s this whole ‘physical fitness’ aspect of it. That’s so not happening.)

But I have managed to land in a field that I never expected, a job that satisfies the above requirements: I do oceanography.

Every time I go to sea (like now–I’ve been out here a few days) I think of the comparison.

There’s no real adrenalin rush like you’d get during a rocket launch, but leaving land behind–watching it fade to nothingness as you sail off into the wild blue yonder–requires more than a bit of courage. And there is some cool stuff to do onboard that gives you a bit of an adrenalin rush.

I travel to places few (if any) have ever gone…most ships stay in shipping lanes/currents, and I’ve gone waaaaay outside of these well-traveled areas of the ocean.

I’m stuck in a confined space with a whole bunch of other nifty people, both crew and scientists. The crew tends to be very innovative; you almost have to be, to fix things when you’re hundreds of miles from the nearest port. The scientists are all both curious and adventurous. They love to learn about what I do and vice versa.

I’m learning just how much the ocean drives various systems here on Earth. It seems desolate (especially when you’re in the middle of a gyre, with no fish and no birds) but even in the midst of barrenness it is teeming with life: marine cyanobacteria such as Prochlorococcus and Synecoccus produce a large percentage of the oxygen we breathe.

The ocean is so close to us, yet we understand so little about it.

What an awesome job I have.



  1. Nice post. Already imagining myself in the middle of nowhere with only water all around. Quite a feeling. Do you people dive also for taking samples?

    • No, no dives. Our automated equipment does that for us. 🙂

  2. […] My research projects in grad school have primarily involved oceanography. As a result, I’ve spent weeks at a time on a research vessel in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I don’t need a space suit to go outside, but other than that, there are times when I really do feel like an astronaut. […]

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