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Fifty Shades of Fantastic - Thoughts from the faculty mentor

posted Dec 15, 2012, 4:37 PM by Kirk Sato   [ updated Dec 15, 2012, 4:38 PM ]
By Lisa Levin, Professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography

    All UC ship-funded student cruises are led by the students, but are required to have a faculty mentor aboard. That is me.  The faculty mentor is around to give advice if needed, but not run the show.  Leading a cruise is a huge job.  It requires proposal preparation, pre-cruise logistical planning, organizing and loading gear, chemicals and equipment, and developing a thorough, but adaptive work schedule that accounts for every minute of a 24-hour day. The students on the San Diego Coastal Expedition, and Chief Scientists Ben Grupe and Christina Frieder, have done a fantastic job.  The whole team works tirelessly, with high spirits, tremendous flexibility and little sleep. Really they do not need much mentoring; they operate professionally and with considerable experience.  I serve them best as an extra pair of hands.

    This means I can enjoy the cruise in ways I can’t when leading them myself (or when I’m home teaching and attending meetings).  I can play with (I mean section and process) mud cores, spend hours sorting animals under the microscope, photograph them and look through keys to identify them.  I can eat more leisurely meals, and pop in to see what the different research groups are doing. 

    Five of my graduate students are on board… probably a record for the Levin lab, which participates in many seagoing expeditions, but often with only a subset of its students at one time. This is great fun – it allows the students to interact with each other, with students from other disciplines and with me in ways we can’t do at home in Sverdrup Hall. It also gives me a chance to see what they see, watch their new ideas emerge (as they always do when we see and handle real organisms) and for the younger students, help them formulate these ideas as thesis questions. 

    Despite the proximity of the cruise study area to Scripps, surprisingly few researchers have focused on the biology of the sea floor. The ROV (remotely operated vehicle) operations have been superb and have revealed dramatic zonation of different animal species on the upper slope. The ROV visit to the newly discovered methane seep site exceeded all expectation.  Initially there were questions about whether the ROV tether was long enough to reach the bottom there.  It was!  What a sight!  This visit ushers SIO into a new era – one in which SIO scientists can study chemosynthetic ecosystems (like seeps and vents) with their own facilities, and nearby Scripps.  All such work in the past has required use of deep submergence facilities from Woods Hole, MBARI or other from other countries.

    With the new seep only a 4 or 5-hour steam from MarFac – there is great potential for long-term observations, new teaching opportunities, and use of manipulative experiments.  Much credit goes to Bruce Appelgate, the SIO Marine Operations group, and the dedicated techs who have worked so hard to get the ROV functional.

So… here are my fifty shades – of what the students are accomplishing with UC Ship funds.

  • Access to top notch, ocean class ship operations
  • Opportunity to do great science
  • Learning to plan seagoing research – and be flexible when things change
  • Developing  leadership  skills  - how to make most of the people happy most of the time
  • Creating new collaborations
  • Bonding and new friendship arising from close quarters, long hours and common goals
  • Sharing in the exhilaration of discovery – there are endless mysteries to unfold
  • Time management – how to make the most of ship time, which costs a heap!
  • Organization skills – with endless amounts of data generated each day  there is a need to keep it all accessible and organized.
  • Sensitivity – with many putting in long long hours (including the res techs and ROV staff) schedules need to accommodate some sleep
  • Lending a hand… nearly every operations team gets some help from the others
  • Communication skills – with blogs, press releases, interviews and word of mouth the students have become SIO’s best communicators
  • Working with donors… donors at sea provides a new route to funding student research, and a chance to reach out to a broader community
  • Creating a SIO legacy… great teamwork at sea sets the scene for future student collaborative programs
  • Science is fun!  Fearsome, fantastic science goes hand in hand with a great time and lots of laughs.

 Did I say fifty???? I meant fifteen.   J