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College sports and Scripps science: Formula for a winning team

posted Dec 16, 2012, 10:30 AM by Kirk Sato   [ updated Dec 17, 2012, 12:26 PM ]

As an avid sports fan, I still envy the collegiate and professional athletes that reach the highlight reel on Sportscenter and I roar when my team comes from behind to win a game – it’s just who I was just brought up to be. 20 years ago, the 7-year-old me would’ve told you that I wanted to be a professional football player like wide receiver, Jerry Rice, #80 for the San Francisco 49ers, but instead, I chose another route in life.  I became involved in another field - a field of science that has led me on a different, but equally exciting journey. As it turns out, oceanography and football have a lot in common.  Despite my love for the game, my love for adventure, my earnest need to explore, and my longing for discovery took precedent. The same passion that drives any athlete to train and execute under pressure is analogous to the drive that pushes the scientists on board this ship.    

Turn on sports radio, listen to any interview with a college football player after a victory or after a great season, and you’ll hear them talk about their team.  Not just the players on the field, but their coaches, their trainers, and fans.  On this ship, we have a team that lives together, stays up late together, stands out in the rain together, laughs together, watches the sunset together, and on, December 15th, 2012, we grieved together.  We grieved for the students and victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

It is unfathomable at this moment to comprehend this tragedy because I grew up being able to follow my dreams and I am currently living out one of them. I am a part of a team of scientists that some might refer to as a “close knit group of colleagues,” or “early career scientists working on their own projects in a common area”, but I like to think of us as an All-Star football team; the same football team that you, your kids, or your friends go to watch on the weekend. Let me explain.

         1.    We have a coach who we all look to for direction, our Chief Scientist.  In July and for the first leg of this cruise, my labmate, Christina Frieder showed tremendous composure under high pressure situations and managed our team like Barry Switzer. Our other Chief Sci, Ben Grupe looks like he’s been to a few bowl games, towering over you like Bret Bielema.


        2.    We have an extremely supportive coaching staff, the offensive coordinators, if you will. But on the Melville, we call them the crew – the ship’s captain, the deckhands, the res-techs, the engineers, the shipmates. They help put us in a position to execute the science that we spend so much time preparing for.


        3.    We have our trainers - our advisors, our professors, our colleagues – who help us prepare and tackle the most intimidating research questions in the sea. 


        4.    Our offensive squad is made of up of All-Star caliber people - scientists, teachers, daughters, brothers, parents, divers, explorers, and naturalists; people who discover new ecosystems, people who observe natural patterns in the deep-sea and people who inspire the youth to pursue science.

        5.    We have a defense in our CTD team that some would say, “win Championships”. Our Defense keeps us in the game - they pick up our Offense when the weather is too rough for the ROV (remotely operated vehicle) to work. 


        6.    We even have Dr. Lisa Levin in the game, who would undoubtedly receive some votes for the “Deep-Sea Hall of Fame”.  She’s not just sitting on the sidelines, but is actively involved with research and mentoring.


And then there are our fans - You! If you’re reading this, the San Diego Coastal Expedition is playing for you. We are studying the ocean because we want to learn from it, to better understand it, so we can pass down this information to future generations.  We are using the ROV, multicore, and otter trawl to peer into the vast unknown of the deep-sea, and we’re finding some amazing organisms.  We’ve seen dogface witch eels, piglet squid, giant bacteria, among many others.  We are also investigating the ocean’s chemistry because, like the weather and climate, the ocean also changes. We have tracked the seasonal changes of physical features in our own backyard, like the California Undercurrent, and we have begun to ask questions like, how does this affect the biological organisms that live there?

             We returned to port yesterday after a week of sleep deprivation, hard work, and exciting results.  Next, we’ll go our separate ways, back to our offices to analyze data, write papers, and give talks, but we’ll also write proposals to continue this work, we'll go on answering your questions, and we'll keep posting photos and blogs.  We have accomplished what we set out to do as far as our research objectives go, but we will not quit following our dreams and inspiring young people to follow theirs of exploring the ocean.  


-  Kirk Sato, PhD Student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography,  Alumnus of the Burton Valley Elementary Bobcats